Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Accumulative Advantages of Outliers


Gladwell’s chapter “The Matthew Effect,” a title which refers to the biblical Scripture the Parable of Talents, illuminates how the talented greatly increase their talents. Biblical and popular retellings of the parable of talents often concentrate on the lesson that if talented people do not use or maximize their gifts, those gifts could be relinquished. But Gladwell, a writer always interested in providing an alternative take on familiar ideas, concentrates on the gifts talented people receive prior to attaining their most notable achievements.

Gladwell, drawing on a body of research from various scholars, illustrates that all-star hockey players, for example, do not simply become all-stars because of their accomplishments as professional athletes. Instead, their achievements are rooted to an entire system of rewards offered early in their childhoods and which continually compound, a process known as “accumulative advantage.” As a telling example, Gladwell shows how on average young people born in early months of a given year get a literal and significant head start over their peers who are born in later months of the same year in youth hockey and soccer leagues.

A cursory search of “accumulative advantage” on the internet connects that concept to inequality, showing how those fortunate enough to be born or situated in the right time and place receive tremendous advantages and benefits. But what do you think about the workings of accumulative advantage and how it plays out on the field of university life at, say, an SIUE? Or, how should we be thinking and talking about apparently hidden systems of rewards or disadvantages that exist on a college campus?

Prior posts in the series
A Community of Outliers
The Haley Scholars Outliers Project

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is because I am only a freshman this year, but I don't think that there are hidden systems at the university level. By the time someone pursues post-secondary education, he/she is judged soley on his/her own merit. Age is not a factor at this level. Many of my own classes have students well over 25 years of age. It doesn't matter if you're an incoming freshman, or are coming back to college for the second or third time, you all start off with the same grade and the same treatment.
K. Phouangmalay

Samantha Martin said...

I think that accumulative advantage becomes evident during the registration process at SIUE. First time students should be able to register before those who have taken a particular class already. If they allowed a certain number of seats to students who wanted to retake the class, the level of equal opportunity would be increased instead of some students being put behind before they begin.

I think that accumulative advantage should be something that is not only discussed in universities, but in all levels of academia. Gladwell's idea about splitting classes by birthdays (i.e. Jan-Apr, May-Aug, etc.) may be a good route to get students of equal maturity to be compared to one another. If done early in the student' life, it would enable them to receive the same training and attention, which would possible improve performance throughout their academic career into college and beyond.

Accumulative advantage is an interesting concept, because it seems to inadvertently occur. Bringing this to the attention of the masses will hopefully enable those who wouldn't normally benefit to get the same opportunities by taking measures to prevent this sort of behavior. It does make you wonder if you are really given all the tools to do anything you want to do in life.

Brent Hitchens said...

I believe that accumulative advantage exists in the university level. Upper level students tend to have more "slack" with things as oppose to under class men. This can be seen when it is time to register for classes, how seniors get to pick their classes first and so on. Additionally, i think accumulative advantage is good as it sets an example for others to view.

Kelly Quon said...

I believe that accumulative advantage does occur at SIUE, mostly during the registration process. Not only do upperclassmen get to choose classes earlier, but they have a larger variety of housing choices. As freshmen, students are required to live in dorms while upperclassmen have the choice to choose to live off campus in an apartment.

Although accumulative advantage is an interesting topic, I believe it does not have a major impact at SIUE as it would in other situations. In this case, I find that students are based own their sole merit and not by age.

Aurelia Daniels said...

I totally agree with Samantha when she said that accumulative advantages starts off when the school allows seniors to have first pick on classes.

I also think that accumulative advantages are continued by the school when they allow those students that are already in a major to have first pick of those classes inside of that major. For example social work students get first pick of social work classes. I feel that if a student needs a class no matter what major they are in we should all have a fair advantage at the classes that we need to graduate.

Amanda Monla said...

I do believe that accumulative advantages exist at SIUE. Especially since seniors get to register first for classes, then juniors, sophomores, and finally freshman. Also, juniors and seniors get first pick at classes for their major even when everybody should have an equal oppurtunity to get into a class if they need that credit in order to graduate.

Vanessa Jones said...

Accumulative Advantage explains from whom you come from and what part of the year you come from. society puts so much stress on what month your born unconciously. As shown in the book if your born in the earlier part of the year 'your destined for greatness" and the rest of us are the people that sit and watch those people do great things. That is what i took from the chapter. Tho this is not at all true therefore I didnt agree with his thesis on comparing what part of the year you where born in to how successful you become.
You get out of life what you put in because college is a choice. The hidden systems don't exsist because there will be alot of stuff at SIUe i might not ever find out about so things are going to be hidden. We have to deal with the life we have the best way we know how and strive to be successful and jump at every opportunity that is thrown our way!!

Joe Hines said...

First off, accumulative advantages DEFINITELY occur and have a very significant impact in everyone's lives. This topic is very interesting yet kind of difficult to discuss without being able to sit down and examine ALL the aspects of it because it clearly stems from so many different aspects of life. (gender, age, nationality, parents, friends, "beauty," where/when born, etc.

Accum. Adv. are definitely present here at the university level. I hear a lot of guys saying it's present within the registration process for classes, which has it's truth (b/c it mainly depends on when you go through Springboard-that's when you register- but some people may live very far away and can only go to one of the last Springboard dates; so that clearly bears weight. However I think that in the scope of how significant an accum. adv. is there are many more situations where the consequences are severe.

To a certain degree everyone starts their collegiate career with the same advantages or disadvantages partly because no one knows anyone. Although where you really begin to see the effects of advantages is when people begin to progress in their education; eventually you have students (who were once on the same playing field as others) who now know each of the professors/doctors on first name basis, have their contact info, are involved with different projects and assignments with the professors, are informed about all the upcoming events/ scholarships/ opportunities etc., who are around the professors more often- resulting in meeting even more distinguished people in that field- being able to listen in on intelligent conversations, etc. (BASICALLY BEING IN THE ENVIRONMENT to succeed).

Because of this, the professors are more willing to give more attention to that student, once again creating a huge ADVANTAGE that has just constantly been accumulating over time.

But this kind of advantage doesn't just happen from coincidence; this kind of advantage seen here with the professors has actually been accumulating since youth. -This is why it's difficult to attempt at pinpointing the main causes, b/c our entire lifetime is the cause- If you think about it; who are the students who end up with such a great advan? (in the univ.) - it's those who were tight with the professors. Then who are the ones tight with the professors? - those who were instructed by others to do so and the importance of getting involved. Then who are the type of people who receive that kind of instruction and advice? - those who are around the people who know and are successful/ intelligent. So you see where I'm going... You'll never find yourself associating with these type of people if from youth you've only hung with the ball players, pretty girls, or popular folk. Then as you mature you pick up the same vocabulary and on and on.

So this accumulated advantage is all around and the professors are only one example. Okay so I'll just stop talking now; but you can clearly see the validity in the "Matthew Effect" those who already have the "look" and intelligence will be given more attention, resources etc. - those who don't will be given less.
God Bless -Sorry for the length again-

Dan Shields said...

I have to agree with Kelly Quon. Accumulative advantage most definitely occurs at SIUE. Though merit and drive play a huge part in success, I know Acc adv also contributes.I learned this first hand fall semester of 08.

I was a sophmore, therefore was third in line to register for spring courses. I was unable to get into any of the classes I needed.I was forced to take mainly elective classes and take summer school to attempt to catch up. I now have enough credits to be considered a junior, but doubt I will graduate spring of 2011.

I believe that many universities are aware of accumulative advantages. Just look at how the traditional 4 year degree has slowly changed to 5+ years...

Chardae Gray said...

I think that accumulative advantage can definitely occur on college campuses such as SIUE. With upperclassman status there can be some advantages such as registering early for classes. I think that certain advantages that upperclassman possess are deserved and gives the freshmen on campus something to look forward to. Students should adjust to this because in the real world when you turn certain ages you have certain advantages such as obtaining your license,the right to vote,independence,consuming an alcoholic beverage,owning a home,etc. These are all aspects of life that a person looks forward to. Besides these particular advantages respect and advantages can simply be earned by hard work and dedication and not status.-C.Gray

Abagail Thompson said...

Abagail Thompson
Even though accumulative advantage does occur at the post-secondary level,the occurrences aren't as severe as the ones seen at the high school level. Even though they are more moderate,SIUE students still see the effects of accumulative advantage at this university. Through upperclassmen getting to choose their class schedules first, allowing upperclassman to have more freedom when choosing where to board, and allowing students with definite majors to choose their classes first, these are a few ways that accumulative advantage is practiced within SIUE.
Instead of looking at accumulative advantage at SIUE as a negative thing though, look at it from a different light. Despite its drawbacks for some, each previous example of accumulative advantages here at SIUE has it benefits for others. (For example: Accumulative advantage at SIUE benefit the upperclassman because they get priority over the underclassman when choosing their classes.)
I personally don't believe that academic advantages at SIUE effect one's education or work ethics to an extreme degree. They may cause some irritation, but they aren't earth shattering and can easily be altered.

Tricia Johnson said...

I think that accumulative advantages do occur at the university level. It's an ongoing process with the registration; I think it's totally fair for the students to have first pick according to their class status because the easier it is for the seniors to get their classes first,the quicker they graduate and another student will be moved up.Plus they had to work to obtain that upperclassmen status just like every student before them that graduated. I felt the same way when I was a freshman and sophmore; I was irritated when I had my perfect schedule worked out but had to pick last and all of the classes with the best times were gone. But that didn't discourage me. I did what I had to do knowing that I would have my day when I'd have that first pick.I think that by knowing and acknowledging that accumulative advantages do exist should be motivation for a student to do their best so that they can reach that level and receive those awards.
I also agree with Dan when he said that universities are aware of these advantages. In the university experience class that I took a guest speaker said that most people will not graduate in 4 years because of other things that go on in our lives;having to work full time to be able to pay for school,taking care of a family, or maintaining a household are some examples of how 4 years may not be enough. It really just depends on your situation.

Amber Lewis said...

I, being a second year student, know for a fact that there are some hidden systems at the university level. The items that they call "free" is really not. We are paying for them in some way and may not even know it. Everything "free" on this campus is not.
Another factor being that the students trying to declare a major you have to apply for you have to be careful who your advisor is. Some advisors try and help you get through the application process and some just throw classes in your face and you will be out there lost and alone. It shouldn't be like that, but that is how the world is.

Tina Messenger said...

What I took from this chapter was that individuals are unfairly compared against eachother. According to this chapter some of the most succesful individuals do have talent however they have been given advantages that the rest of us did not recieve. I have always wondered how some people get to be so great while the rest of us work so hard to just achieve good results. This chapter was very fascinating.

Kamrey Mcnutt said...

I believe accumulative advantage exist at the university level. During the class registrations upper classmen have the chance to pick their classes first. This advantage may prevent a lower class student from attending a class that is needed to complete a program. For instance I am a pre-pharmacy major and I need to complete classes such as organic chemistry prior to me sitting for the PCAT exam. The Pharmacy program is a six year program. If I am not able to complete certain classes I may not be ready on time to sit for the PCAT in October 2010, which means my six year program could turn into a seven year program. I may miss an opportunity that may be presented to the 2015 Pharm D students. There may not be another opportunity for the 2016 Pharm D students.

Accumulative advantage is also present in scholarship selection. SIUE has several scholarships for Illinois residents. The school also has scholarships for students with very high ACT and SAT scores. So what happens to students from other states or smart students who did not score extremely high on the ACT or SAT. The students who do not fall into these categories are left out. The students that are awarded the scholarships may not have been the best candidates for scholarships but got them based on something other than intellect. Students that are very smart may choose not to attend the school because of finances, get poor grades, because they have to work to pay for school, or they drop out because the expenses become overwhelming.

Not everyone is going to be given the same chances. I guess that is why I have heard life is not fair so many times.

Morris Pearson, Jr. said...

I don't really think accumulative advantage exists on our campus. Sure Seniors get to pick first in their registration process, but isn't that their right. It is less likely a senior who is about to finish college would drop a class as compared to a freshman who hasn't even decided on a major yet. I would hate to see a senior who has only one class left before graduating have to wait another semester before graduating just because a freshman took the last available class.

Paris Owens said...

Freshmen are required to live in dorms and upperclassmen have more housing options. However, living in the dorms was a great college experience for me. Accumulative advantage is especially evident during he registration process. Seniors get to pick their classes first. This is based on credit hours achieved alone. But, I don’t really see a big problem with that. Seniors should be able to get the necessary hours to graduate. I think the university is implementing the fairest way possible.
Students here are judged on their academic merit. Although accumulative advantage does occur at SIUE, I don’t think that its presence is extremely oppressive.

Roanda Maldonado said...

If I'm translating this right, I think accumulative advantage is shown in SIUE students by their grades and involvement in the organizations on campus. People that are in the system of rewards and punishments ever since childhood, for example being involved in sports, or any sort of activities, is evident in their college grades and involvement on campus. I think that accumulative advantage plays a big role in the graduation rate at SIUE as well. If you were raised in an active environment, everything makes more sense when pursuing any sort of lifetime goal because of the exposure since childhood.

Taleah J said...

I agree with the majority, Seniors do get first pick on their classes each semester and then it trickles down to junirs, sophmores,and then freshmans.But I also agree with Kamrey and Morris, why would a senoir who is about to graduate have to wait for a class when Im sure at this point they are ready to get out of school A.S.A.P. and is running out of money to pay for courses. Freshmans should understand this because if they were about to graduate they wouldn't want any thing standing in there way of getting those last courses out of the way.

Jamie said...

I'm a freshman and I agree that seniors should be given first choice at classes, but I wanted to comment on the advantage that student-athletes get over everybody else in the school. Being an athlete myself, I was allowed the opportunity to sign up for my courses weeks in advance. This is a nice perk that comes with being a student-athlete; however, I still thought about how unfair that might be to other students, especially seniors who are getting ready to finish their university careers.

Jamie Mueller