In literary terms, looking or moving up generally alludes to improving one’s position. In fact, this can be extended beyond literature to general spoken English. People use the term “moving up” to refer to advancement in general. A person can move up in career placement, by graduating from one level of academics and “moving up” to another, or by upgrading from a small home to a larger one. There are many instances in which the concept of upward mobility is used, both in literature and in everyday speech. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines upward mobility as “the capacity or facility for rising to a higher social or economic position.”
By specifying that it is on a hill, the author places the college, an institution of higher education, above or on an upward slope. This implies that the college and all that it confers on a graduate are above, both literally and figuratively. College graduates are generally considered better educated than people who do not attend college. In turn, a college degree usually leads to greater opportunities and career advancement. Attending college is aspirational. Thus, placing the college on a hill is a metaphor for how ambitious and difficult attending college can be.
The steps from the hill lead down to Harlem shows just how tough it is to make the presumably arduous climb up to the college from Harlem. There is a figurative hierarchy being created in this description. At the very top of the hierarchy is the college, which represents a pathway to a better lifestyle. Situated below is Harlem. It is difficult to climb to the college from Harlem because it is difficult to gain admission to college and difficult to complete all the coursework. This description is meant to convey just how difficult it is for someone from Harlem to get to college and then complete all the requirements to obtain the college degree.