The Corporatization of Higher Education


Nicolaus Mills in Dissent:

In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 a year for tuition, fees, room, and board. Six years later more than two hundred colleges charged that amount. What happened between 2003 and 2009 was the start of the recession. By driving down endowments and giving tax-starved states a reason to cut back their support for higher education, the recession put new pressure on colleges and universities to raise their price.

When our current period of slow economic growth will end is anybody’s guess, but even when it does end, colleges and universities will certainly not be rolling back their prices. These days, it is not just the economic climate in which our colleges and universities find themselves that determines what they charge and how they operate; it is their increasing corporatization.

If corporatization meant only that colleges and universities were finding ways to be less wasteful, it would be a welcome turn of events. But an altogether different process is going on, one that has saddled us with a higher-education model that is both expensive to run and difficult to reform as a result of its focus on status, its view of students as customers, and its growing reliance on top-down administration. This move toward corporatization is one that the late University of Montreal professor Bill Readings noted sixteen years ago in his study,The University in Ruins, but what has happened in recent years far exceeds the alarm he sounded in the 1990s.