by Blake R. Silver
University of Chicago Press, 2024
Cloth: 978-0-226-83474-0 | Paper: 978-0-226-83476-4 | eISBN: 978-0-226-83475-7
Library of Congress Classification LB3605.S568 2024
Dewey Decimal Classification 378.1980973

An ethnographic analysis of how insecurity is at the heart of contemporary higher education.

Institutions of higher education are often described as “ivory towers,” places of privilege where students exist in a “campus bubble,” insulated from the trials of the outside world. These metaphors reveal a widespread belief that college provides young people with stability and keeps insecurity at bay. But for many students, that’s simply not the case.

Degrees of Risk reveals how insecurity permeates every facet of college life for students at public universities. Sociologist Blake Silver dissects how these institutions play a direct role in perpetuating uncertainty, instability, individualism, and anxiety about the future. Silver examined interviews with more than one hundred students who described the risks that surrounded every decision: which major to choose, whether to take online classes, and how to find funding. He expertly identified the ways the college experience played out differently for students from different backgrounds. For students from financially secure families with knowledge of how college works, all the choices and flexibility of college felt like an adventure or a wealth of opportunities. But for many others, especially low-income, first-generation students, their personal and family circumstances meant that that flexibility felt like murkiness and precarity. In addition, he discovered that students managed insecurity in very different ways, intensifying inequality at the intersections of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and other sociodemographic dimensions. Drawing from these firsthand accounts, Degrees of Risk presents a model for a better university, one that fosters success and confidence for a diverse range of students.