Kevin McClure and Kara Ostlund


“Although Posecznick rightly underscores the ways in which Ravenwood is unique, many institutions in the United States ought to pay closer attention to the college’s experiences, as they face an increasingly common set of challenges: how to stand out in a crowded field, how to effectively educate students representing diverse backgrounds and pursuing diverse pathways, and how to cover institutional costs without saddling students with substantial loan debt.”

One strength of the book is its demonstration of the myriad tensions and contradictions Ravenwood accommodated on a daily basis. For example, Ravenwood educated students overlooked by many other institutions, yet this model necessitated questionable admissions practices and relied heavily on federal financial aid. It had to ‘sell’ students on the hope of a college credential, while simultaneously operating as a ‘node in a massive educational infrastructure that is continuously measuring, evaluating, diagnosing, converting, processing, explaining and positioning individuals’ (p. xvi). Even if it was a peripheral cog, Ravenwood was still implicated in the machinery of meritocracy. It peddled opportunity and the possibility of socio-economic transformation, even when it knew the system made these promises difficult to completely fulfill.

“Readers will find in Selling Hope and College the type of rich description that is the hallmark of ethnography. Posecznick effectively weaves into the narrative useful information about how he collected and interpreted what was likely copious data. Even more impressive are the lengths that Posecznick goes to in order to discuss and acknowledge his positionality (at the time of fieldwork) as a doctoral student from an elite university and seasoned college administrator, as well as his privileges as a white, professional class male. Posecznick’s positionality made him an insider who could not “carelessly indict the entire system” in which he worked, yet also an outsider trying to understand frequently unfamiliar experiences, people, and processes (p. xviii). As a result of this insider-outsider dynamic, Posecznick must constantly write to strike a balance between pointing out Ravenwood’s shortcomings and placing problems in proper context, critiquing decisions and explaining the ‘risky social world’ in which his participants operated, and sharing personal insights and gratitude for the relationships on which the book is premised (p. 15).”

-Kevin McClure Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Kara Ostlund, a doctoral student in the Leadership in Higher Education program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. (2017, October 2). Book Review: Selling hope and college: Merit, markets, and recruitment in an unranked school. Teachers College Record, 22171.