Exploring the ways in which students from low socioeconomic backgrounds experience a sense of belonging at elite institutions
Migdol, Honi Faith
MetadataShow full item record
Institutions of higher learning have a distinct responsibility of serving and supporting the varied needs of their admitted students. In recent years, elite institutions have offered generous financial aid packages and expanded their recruitment efforts to diversify their enrollment and increase access to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. However, a wealth of research indicates that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds face unique social challenges at elite institutions as they experience a dissonance in their experiences from their affluent peers (Aries, 2008). Once enrolled among privileged peers, economically challenged students at elite institutions may experience feelings of exclusion or lack of belonging (Ostrove, 2007). Grounded in Strayhorn’s (2012) Model of College Students’ Sense of Belonging and approached from a constructivist paradigm using narrative inquiry, this qualitative study explores the ways in which students from low socioeconomic backgrounds experience a sense of belonging at elite institutions. The seven participants of this study were currently enrolled undergraduate students at a small, private, residential, elite institution situated in a rural setting in the Southeast. Through two individual interviews and a photo elicitation exercise, the students shared the ways in which they experienced a sense of belonging at their institution. The findings were categorized into two themes: Campus Experiences (including representations of affluence, both on campus and from their peers, unanticipated campus costs, campus involvement, and their social integration and relationships with peers) and Social Class Identity Formation and Reconciliation (awareness of their own socioeconomic status, their attitudes towards money, value formation, and familial and cultural influence). Each of the experiences they shared painted a picture of the ways in which they experienced a sense of belonging at their institution and provided implications for practice for higher education administrators in creating inclusive communities for all students.