Americas, USA

The Corporatization of College

Education is a key part of the American dream, theoretically available to those who work hard enough. Self-motivation and having an industrious attitude toward study is promoted as the ticket to a better life, with the “git ‘r done” mindset as present in education as outside of it.

Though intellectual elitism and the value of hard work are often at odds, the sentiment perpetuates the notion of personal responsibility as the ticket to success. However, merit doesn’t determine who does and does not get to be educated – access to higher education is quite limited. Sociological studies show that the availability of education is based on factors not related to individual achievement, contradicting the common perception of educational equality. Education is a corporate and political battlefield, where diversity only exists for financial or political benefit. Even with higher education supposedly becoming more accessible we must ask what this marketed accessibility means for the quality of education.

An important body of sociological research explains how class and race stratification can limit the accessibility of education and determine academic attainment and achievement, attendance patterns, and correlating socio-economic outcomes. This research includes the following topics:

  • Social and cultural capital embedded within families, and the extent to which such varying capital is valued differently by schools
  • Tracking
  • High-stakes testing
  • Differential academic knowledge in elementary school to rigorous math and science courses in secondary school
  • Drop-out and push-out patterns that contribute to pipeline constriction
  • Increased segregation and hyper-segregation resulting from the repeal of desegregation court orders

(Howard & Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2010)

These issues not only limit the accessibility of education, but determine the probability of achievement and program completion. Therefore, a market exists that can be analyzed to determine which recruiting and admission practices are financially beneficial.

Colleges and universities are generally classified as for-profit, private non-profit, or public non-profit. There is distinction between them in that some are religious, there are different types of degrees or certifications offered, and their accreditations. For-profit schools rely almost entirely on federal student loans, from which they profit no matter the circumstances. They often use predatory “recruiting” practices, based mostly on sales through call centers. Recruiters are salespeople with quotas, encouraged to harass potential students, and specially trained to determine the best methods to ensure enrollment. In targeting lower-income individuals, most of whom are already in debt, and often using psychological manipulation, recruiters are responsible for securing the failure of the students. This target customer is a guaranteed failure, allowing these schools to invest even more in advertising and recruiting than actual curricula. Even those who do graduate, an astounding 22 percent, leave with massive debt, and lower income than before they began the program.

Tuition

In stark contrast, elite private non-profit schools are rarely marketed, depending on socially powerful alumni to promote their superiority. As supply is lower than demand, these schools are part of a perfect economic model in which they can charge obscene prices due to their desirability. They sell a brand, like in the fashion world, that is associated with a higher socio-economic class despite its true value. This elitist sanctuary often pushes out historically marginalized groups, as competition is determined by class before talent, potential, and character. Federal funds also go to these schools, but they are also able to secure income from students and their families. They often also offer financial aid and loans themselves, which can be bought and sold on Wall Street for a profit. Public schools, while receiving more government funding, engage in similar practices. Functioning as a factory, colleges produce a specially-trained workforce. This system feeds money into the loan market, diminishes the value of the non-graduate workforce, and gives employers an unfair advantage in determining wages and employment for the highly-indebted consumers of the higher education system.

Corporate governance and financial strategies are adopted by higher education organizations, depending on administrative boards whose members’ incomes range in the hundreds of thousands. Schools are graded on their legitimacy by accreditors which determines their eligibility to receive federal funds. Accreditation occurs through non-government agencies that are recognized and regulated by the Department of Education. The DOE, at the direction of policymakers and financial powers, sticks to a hands-off approach when it comes to higher education and the accreditors. This leniency has allowed abuse, predatory practices, fraud, poor performance, and corruption to fester within the higher education system. In this loosely monitored market, accreditors rake in profits while rarely being held accountable for their questionable protocols. Only recently have there been attempts to properly govern these agencies, and in these cases, the cost of pardoned loans, a result of illegitimate institutions, has fallen on the taxpayers.

Consumer prices

By targeting lower-income families, minorities, and veterans, institutions ensure their profits by exploiting financial illiteracy. The U.S. earns over 3 billion dollars annually from loans to lower class families, and decreasing household incomes guarantees this cycle will continue. While above-market interest on these loans presents a problem, the underlying issue is cost. In comparison, loans made to students, instead of their parents, cause the government to lose money, increasing the national debt, and once again, leaning on the taxation system to absorb the costs. Individual debt has reached unprecedented levels, and the cost of college continues to rise while wages fall. Most of this expense will fall on taxpayers, while institutions, administrators, and policymakers line their pockets.

An increasing apathy toward intellectual pursuits has led to the proliferation of anti-intellectualism within institutions; pragmatism is devaluing critical thinking and the questioning of social norms OR the status quo. Censorship, superficiality, and standardization create an environment in which students are an obedient commodity, and their increasing debt only reinforces their lack of ambition. College has become a system built on people for profit, guaranteeing crowd control of the most important members of society. The demonization of the youth, progressive ideologies, and intellectualism has allowed the rise of these capitalist tyrants feigning humanitarian motivations. Combating nonsensical tuition prices should begin with more federal regulation, which would save taxpayers and the government money in the long term. However, the new administration under president-elect Trump will likely ensure that this corrupt system continues. If there is money to be made, it is likely he and his Wall Street companions will do everything in their power to preserve this steady source of revenue. We must ask ourselves what is the real value of college, beyond a path to financial gain, is higher education simply a means to acquire skills, or should it teach us how to think?

About Emma Saxby

Emma is an egalitarian, activist, freelance writer, photographer, and artist residing in the United States. She studies nuclear engineering, plasma physics, international politics and culture. Emma spends a lot of time hiking, geeking out about Star Wars and keeping up with current events.

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