[Jack's] interviews turn up rich detail and troubling insights. What Jack discovered challenges us to think carefully about the campus lives of poor students and the responsibility elite institutions have for not only their education but also their social and economic mobility ... The Privileged Poor breaks new ground on social and educational questions of great import.
Instead of consigning low-income undergraduates, as university policies and scholarly articles often do, to one homogenous minority, [Jack] proposes a more nuanced language to describe and address the needs of different contingents. His research illuminates how and why the 'privileged poor,' whose experiences at competitive private schools have primed them for academic success, outperform their 'doubly disadvantaged' peers, who have languished in underfunded public schools ... Jack spent hundreds of hours listening to his subjects, offering attention and advice in seemingly equal measure. The lasting beauty of his ethnography is that it gives a voice to the students who, as his research ends up revealing, most need it.
Some readers of The Privileged Poor, I suspect, will take issue with Jack’s claim that he is not 'telling the story of spoiled kids lamenting that they have not been given everything they want.' That said, Jack does make a compelling case that access is not the same as inclusion. And that institutions of higher education should take hidden injuries of class seriously and not treat lower-income students as a homogenous group ... Unfortunately, The Privileged Poor does not address the academic performance of Jack’s students — or examine race as an independent variable. Jack does not indicate whether grievances subsided as students reached their junior and senior years. Nor does he investigate the post-graduate careers of the Privileged Poor, the Doubly Disadvantaged, or compare them with those of other students at 'Renowned' university ... As Jack reminds us, adopting no-loan policies was a bold step to remove economic barriers to access. Alas, however, his book also demonstrates that America’s colleges, and, more generally, American society, must do more to overcome the structural inequities — social and cultural differences that comprise 'the bleak reality of living with empty pockets in deep-pocketed institutions.'
Some of Jack’s most intriguing and depressing insights, though, concern the group he focuses on least: the upper-income students. Some appear shockingly selfish, with extravagant lifestyles that include trips on private jets, renting luxury venues for parties, and redecorating their dorm rooms ... Understanding what happens to these different groups if or after they graduate demands more attention, as does preparing them for higher education. And more focus should be directed to enhancing community colleges rather than elite institutions. But Jack provides important insights into challenges of equal access that are far from solved.