Ivy League above "Sky": Stranded Dream of Korean (Upper-) Middle-Class

Hong Jin Jo, University of Chicago

Despite the increasing number and heterogeneity of international students in United States universities, little attention has been paid to their choice to study. This study aims to explore the “Ivy League boom” among elite Korean students since the 1990s. By challenging the ideas of institutionalists who suppose the convergence of global higher education and human capital theories which explain the transnational college choice as economic action, this research is grounded in the theoretical perspective that the higher education as institutionalized cultural capital and its dynamic relationship with economic capital is crucial to understanding the global college choice. Using a mixed qualitative research method, the study finds that the Ivy League boom started due to the prestige of American tertiary education as cultural capital, a new way of distinction in Korea, but began to decline as the importance of tangible economic return (“Return on Investment”) surpassed abstract cultural aspiration (“prestige”) in the 2010s. The findings also suggest that institutional change in Korean higher education influenced the elite Korean students’ international college choices. In other words, undergraduate study abroad is not a simple college choice but a complex phenomenon the dynamics between diverse capitals interlocks with the local-global link in the era of globalization. Therefore, additional attention should be paid to understanding transnationality in the new context to higher education and its role in stratification.

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 Presented in Session 45. Education, Discrimination and Social Stratification