Education has become an investment. But what are its returns?

Eleni Schirmer in Lapham’s Quarterly:

Higher education in the United States is a speculative endeavor. It offers a means of inching toward something that does not quite exist but that we very badly want to realize—enlightenment, higher wages, national security. For individuals, it provides the lure of upward mobility, an illusion of escape from the lowest rungs of the labor market. For the federal government, it has charted a kind of statecraft, outlining its core commitments to military strength and economic growth, all the while absolving the state of the responsibility for ensuring that all its subjects have dignified means to live. We are told the path to decent wages and social respect must route through college.

The metric of higher education is credit; it runs on the belief of future value amid present uncertainty. This has readily lent to the industry’s financialization, the elaborate ways of using money to make more money rather than to produce goods and services. Today financialized systems of higher education mean that colleges and universities operate as investors or borrowers or both.

More here.