“When you’re a college student, you have to learn to work the system to get help. And trust me, there is a system.”
This statement, made by a student to an audience of campus administrators and higher education advocates, generated a few uncomfortable chuckles from a group well aware of the system she was describing. Often referred to as “hidden curriculum,” the system is “the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school.” In other words, the social and cultural norms instructors don’t explicitly teach or discuss.
In the current pandemic environment of remote learning, the hidden curriculum remains a major hurdle, made even more difficult to navigate in a virtual environment. The exclusionary nature of hidden curriculum has no place in higher education if postsecondary education is expected to remain a public good and an engine of socioeconomic mobility.
Perhaps not surprising, the effects of hidden curriculum are most pervasive among first-generation college-goers, whose parents are unable to provide guidance due to their lack of experience in a college setting. The informal advising a student receives from a parent or guardian can be critical to instilling a sense of self-efficacy and building a strong attachment to a campus. This lack of insight can be detrimental to a student’s collegiate experience, which is apparent given that about one out of every three first-generation students will drop out of college within their first three years–more than twice the rate of students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree.