- The Marketization of Higher Education
Few would argue that higher education isn't in crisis. Colleges and universities presently face a number of challenges: looming budget cuts, growing workloads and class sizes, rising grade inflation, growing tuition rates, and antagonistic public opinion. Several recent scholarly publications explore these problems from a range of perspectives. Among these are works that gauge undergraduate learning, argue for the importance [End Page 121] of the humanities in education, examine the experience of campus employees, defend the concept of tenure, or critique the rise of the administrative infrastructure. In spite of their varied approaches, the same overarching theme appears over and over again: through its attempts to ensure its own survival, the university has reshaped and exploited itself at the expense of students, faculty, and the public good. Included in this growing body of work are James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar's Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education and Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades's Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education. These books share the project of moving beyond analyses of individual issues and problems to a broader focus on the nature of contemporary academic culture, and both show how academic culture has shifted in worrying ways. Lowering Higher Education and Academic Capitalism offer different portraits of contemporary higher education as a result of their concentrations on, respectively, liberal arts programs in Canadian public universities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines in US research universities. However, both sets of authors emphasize the need to understand underlying values in order to address the problems arising from the university's ongoing transformation.
Each work imagines current university attitudes and values to be in conflict with the original mission of higher education. Côté and Allahar identify the problem of Canadian higher education as "mission drift," whereby "liberal educational programs [have been transformed] . . . into pseudo-vocational ones" (2011, 5). They connect administrative educational policies to increased student enrollments and lower academic standards, resulting in the psychological and emotional disengagement of students and faculty. Slaughter and Rhoades hypothesize along similar lines, though their use of what they term "knowledge regimes" indicates their focus remains at a macro level. They examine how a large US university runs, the networks that constitute it, and the way that it produces and commodifies knowledge. They too argue that a shift has taken place from a knowledge regime dedicated to the public good to an academic capitalist one that "[blurs] boundaries between markets, states, and higher education," and posits knowledge as something to be privately owned rather than publicly shared (2009, 11). Slaughter and Rhoades assert that what we consider valuable in contemporary academic culture has changed; we have moved from an understanding that foregrounds the public good and the valuing of abstract knowledge to one that privileges content-based learning and the output of tangible products in the interest of generating revenue. Both pairs of authors evince concern with the university's shift; where they differ most explicitly is in their explanations of how it happened. [End Page 122]
Lowering Higher Education argues that students no longer practice higher-level thinking about abstract concepts, think critically and reflexively about the world around them, or learn for the sake of learning. Instead, Côté and Allahar claim, critical thinking has come to matter only if it generates a product. Curricular choices emphasize the learning of facts and skills oriented towards specific careers. The authors blame this change on several key developments: the belief that everyone needs a college degree, the push to credential more students, and the failure of universities to uphold their academic standards in the face of a failing secondary education system. The authors see the changing climate...