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The Privileged Poor

How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students

Anthony Abraham Jack

ISBN 9780674976894

Publication date: 03/01/2019

An NPR Favorite Book of the Year
Winner of the Critics’ Choice Book Award, American Educational Studies Association
Winner of the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award
Winner of the CEP–Mildred García Award for Exemplary Scholarship

Winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize

Getting in is only half the battle. The Privileged Poor reveals how—and why—disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges, and explains what schools can do differently if these students are to thrive.

The Ivy League looks different than it used to. College presidents and deans of admission have opened their doors—and their coffers—to support a more diverse student body. But is it enough just to admit these students? In The Privileged Poor, Anthony Jack reveals that the struggles of less privileged students continue long after they’ve arrived on campus. Admission, they quickly learn, is not the same as acceptance. This bracing and necessary book documents how university policies and cultures can exacerbate preexisting inequalities and reveals why these policies hit some students harder than others.

Despite their lofty aspirations, top colleges hedge their bets by recruiting their new diversity largely from the same old sources, admitting scores of lower-income black, Latino, and white undergraduates from elite private high schools like Exeter and Andover. These students approach campus life very differently from students who attended local, and typically troubled, public high schools and are often left to flounder on their own. Drawing on interviews with dozens of undergraduates at one of America’s most famous colleges and on his own experiences as one of the privileged poor, Jack describes the lives poor students bring with them and shows how powerfully background affects their chances of success.

If we truly want our top colleges to be engines of opportunity, university policies and campus cultures will have to change. Jack provides concrete advice to help schools reduce these hidden disadvantages—advice we cannot afford to ignore.


  • Jack’s investigation redirects attention from the matter of access to the matter of inclusion. Rather than parse the spurious meritocracy of admissions, his book challenges universities to support the diversity they indulge in advertising.

    —New Yorker


  • 2019, Joint winner of the AESA 2019 Critics' Choice Book Award
  • 2020, Joint winner of the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award
  • 2019, Winner of the CEP Mildred García Award for Exemplary Scholarship
  • 2020, Winner of the Michael Harrington Award
  • 2018, Winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Prize


  • Anthony Abraham Jack is the Inaugural Faculty Director of the Newbury Center and Associate Professor of Higher Education Leadership at Boston University. He has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, and his research has been featured on The Open Mind, All Things Considered, and CNN. The Privileged Poor was named an NPR Books Best Book of 2019.

Book Details

  • 288 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press