The Privatization of 'Savvy': Class Reproduction in the Era of College for All

59 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2014

See all articles by Jennifer Silva

Jennifer Silva

Bucknell University

Kaisa Snellman

INSEAD - Organisational Behavior

Carl Frederick

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: July 29, 2014


In the contemporary United States, higher education is touted as the primary vehicle for upward mobility. Despite the introduction of numerous policies that encourage working-class students to attend college, class inequalities in enrollment persist. Existing explanations of the enrollment gap focus on the rising costs of tuition as well as class-based differences students' abilities and aspirations. We argue that none of these explanations fully explain enrollment patterns. Drawing on 120 interviews with three generations of working- and middle-class Americans, we demonstrate that college enrollment requires a distinctly 21st century synthesis of social and cultural capital that hinges on strategic planning in the marketplace. We label this capital "savvy" and situate its development within the rise of college-for-all ideology, the expansion and differentiation of the higher education system, and the privatization of childrearing. We conclude that increasing differences in access to savvy is a key driver of the reproduction of inequality.

Keywords: Social Class, Inequality, Higher Education, Youth, Mobility

Suggested Citation

Silva, Jennifer and Snellman, Kaisa and Frederick, Carl, The Privatization of 'Savvy': Class Reproduction in the Era of College for All (July 29, 2014). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2014/47/OBH, Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer Silva

Bucknell University ( email )

701 Moore Ave.
Lewisburg, PA 17837
United States

Kaisa Snellman (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Organisational Behavior ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
Fontainebleau 77305

Carl Frederick

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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