The Privileged Poor

In their book “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students,” authors Anthony Abraham Jack explores the experiences of low-income students at elite colleges and universities in the United States. The book argues that while these institutions provide opportunities for upward mobility, they often fail to support and understand the unique challenges faced by students from low-income backgrounds. In this article, we will explore the key themes and arguments of “The Privileged Poor,” with headings to guide you through different aspects.

  1. The Concept of the “Privileged Poor”

The term “privileged poor” refers to students who come from low-income backgrounds but have attended elite high schools or prep schools. These students may have access to resources and networks that other low-income students do not, such as college counselors and mentors who can help them navigate the college application process. However, they may still face significant challenges in college, such as feeling like they don’t belong or experiencing financial stress.

  1. The Challenges Faced by Low-Income Students at Elite Colleges

One of the main arguments of “The Privileged Poor” is that elite colleges often fail to understand and support the unique challenges faced by low-income students. For example, many of these students come from under-resourced schools and may not have had access to the same level of academic preparation as their wealthier peers. They may also be juggling work and family responsibilities while attending college, which can make it difficult to fully engage in campus life.

  1. The Importance of Community

Another key theme of “The Privileged Poor” is the importance of community for low-income students. Many of these students may feel isolated and disconnected from their peers at elite colleges, who may come from much wealthier backgrounds. Building supportive communities, both on campus and off, can help these students feel more connected and supported.

  1. The Role of Elite Colleges in Promoting Social Mobility

Despite the challenges faced by low-income students at elite colleges, “The Privileged Poor” argues that these institutions still provide important opportunities for upward mobility. However, in order to fully realize this potential, elite colleges need to do more to support and understand the needs of low-income students. This includes providing more financial aid, offering targeted academic and social support programs, and working to create a more inclusive campus culture.

  1. Policy Implications

“The Privileged Poor” also has important policy implications for how we think about access to higher education. The book argues that current policies that focus solely on expanding access to elite colleges are insufficient, and that more needs to be done to support low-income students once they are on campus. This could include increasing funding for programs that support low-income students, such as TRIO programs and community college partnerships.

  1. The Intersectionality of Class and Race

Finally, “The Privileged Poor” highlights the intersectionality of class and race when it comes to access to elite colleges. While low-income students of all races face significant challenges, students of color may also face additional barriers related to racial discrimination and bias. Addressing these issues requires a more comprehensive approach that takes into account the multiple ways in which low-income students may be marginalized.


“The Privileged Poor” offers a powerful critique of the ways in which elite colleges fail to support and understand the needs of low-income students. By highlighting the experiences of the “privileged poor,” the book sheds light on the complex challenges faced by students from low-income backgrounds who attend elite colleges. However, the book also offers hope, by showing that with the right supports and resources, these students can thrive and achieve upward mobility. Ultimately, “The Privileged Poor” calls on us to do more to support all students, regardless of their background, in their pursuit of higher education and a better life.

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