Speaking of Education…

David Schultz–with whom I collaborated on a textbook a couple of years ago–has written a thought-provoking article on the coming decline of the “corporate” university.

The corporate university is being undone by the very forces that created it. The defining characteristic of higher education in the last forty years has been its corporatization, which has transformed the university from an educational community with shared governance into a top-down bureaucracy that is increasingly managed and operated like a traditional profit-seeking corporation.

David points out that–at least since World War II– there have been two very distinct “business models” that have characterized American higher education. The first model was based on public investment in education, and it lasted until the 1970s. “The second, a corporate model, flourished until the economic crash in 2008.”

Public institutions were central to the first model.

The business model was simple: tax dollars, federal aid, and an expanding population of often first-generation students attending state institutions at low tuition. Let us call this the Dewey model,after John Dewey, whose theories emphasized the democratic functions of education.

Beginning with the 1980s, support for all public institutions and programs–including but not limited to universities– began to diminish, and a near-religious belief in the power of markets to cure everything that ails us replaced it.

The corporate university took control of the curriculum in order to generate revenue. The new business model found its most powerful income stream in professional education, including programs in public or business administration and law school, which became the cash cow of colleges and universities. This was especially true with MBA programs, which rapidly multiplied. These programs were sold to applicants with the claim that the high tuition would be more than offset by future earnings.

This business model in part used tuition from professional programs to finance the rest of the university. Students in these programs were able to secure loans to finance their training. The model relied heavily on attracting foreign students, returning baby boomers in need of additional credentials, and recent “baby boomlet” graduates seeking professional degrees as a shortcut to professional advancement.

The consequences of this shift are all around us: ballooning student debt loads, the emphasis on narrow job/professional training and the corresponding neglect of the liberal arts curricula that taught students how to think, the ever-growing dependence on poorly-paid (okay, exploited) adjunct faculty, and the rise of for-profit institutions that promise quick credentialing without the inconvenience of an actual education, among others.

David pulls no punches: as he says, the corporate business model is an education Ponzi scheme, and like all Ponzi schemes, it is falling apart.

Those of us who care about education, who fear the consequences for self-governance of a credentialed but uneducated population, need to figure out how to go about restoring the university’s civic and intellectual mission.


  1. I’m not supporting the corporatized university, but – in fairness – I haven’t noticed that people who went to college in the 60s and 70s are markedly superior thinkers to those who went to college after that.

    Maybe that’s just my anecdotal experience. And, certainly the debt loads are a problem.

  2. There will be no restoration of the university’s civic and intellectual mission any time soon I fear. Not until this society faces the ugly truth about our individual and collective greed.

  3. This is a further example of the ‘Con’ of western civilization, not unlike the Big Tobacco con, the Coal Industry Con, it was created not by attempts to better the institution, but to increase profits.

    With the Tobacco and Coal and other industries all was needed was educated individuals who could create ‘Doubt’ about real scientific findings. The Corporate Educational Institution is supposed to create those scientist who will create the doubt about real scientific findings. The side benefit was the debt sold to the students who are honest.

    Check and expose where the money comes from, don’t worry about education. As Doug correctly points out, thinkers will survive.

  4. ..Started in the 1980’s….
    …Near religous ferver…
    All part of the Reagan Revolution. Kill the Unions, Kill education, gut the middle class. All power to the 1%. So far they are winning.

  5. And even worse, the corporatization of elementary and secondary public education. One important step earlier in our youth’s development, one huge step larger in scale. There aren’t organized groups
    Iike DFER for the college level to my knowledge.

  6. “Those of us who care about education, who fear the consequences for self-governance of a credentialed but uneducated population, need to figure out how to go about restoring the university’s civic and intellectual mission.”

    I copied and pasted the above paragraph because it reminded me of an earlier blog; “Complicated Problems, Bumper Sticker Solutions”, 9/23/15 (Criminal Justice, public policy, sex offender registries)

    “But at some point everyone needs to take a deep breath and recognize the unintended-and pernicious consequences of “solutions created by people who fail to understand the complexity and dimensions of the problem.”

    From there I moved back to an article in The Nation magazine, Sept. 28/Oct. 5, 2015; The Danger of “Foreign Policy by Bumper Sticker”, by Katrina vanden Heuvel.

    “The far greater danger is the combination of paranoia and hubris that characterizes the foreign policies of the Republican candidates, who would lead us into still more self-inflicted disasters.”

    These issues are all tied together with the corporatization of universities producing the people who want to maintain that control of what is taught and carried out into society by leaders of education, government, public safety and industry…including the current medical industry. They also lead to the current history book situation in Texas (and probably other southern schools) which classified slavery as “bringing millions of Africans on ships to this country to work in the Agriculture industry”.

    These actions are not “unintended” but are indeed “pernicious consequences” of such people as Mitch Daniels who is now President of Purdue University and has this glorious idea of financing students by having industries pay the education costs and collect later from their future earnings through employment. Is this or is this not blatant “corporatization”?

  7. The good news is that we are abandoning the now dysfunctional past and moving to a largely unknown future. What we notice is that what worked in the past no longer does. What we could notice but don’t is that that’s not surprising because the world is different. Why should what did work be expected to continue to?

    The world has fully connected. One human organism. Just like when our cells went from individuals to colonies to fully integrated human individuals we have now stepped up our collective game to the human cohort from the human being.

    One aspect of that is the move from hierarchy to network. We no longer can be arranged by power but now by connection. Like has been right before our eyes for decades in our discovery of how our new defining organ works, our brain. Billions of neurons whose only functions are based on how many others they connect to .

    Hierarchy is obsolete. Power is obsolete. Ownership is now obsolete. Organic knowledge has become our primary survival tool. Because we have built a world that demands it.

    The field of education is now too important to leave to educators. It is the staff of life in what’s inevitably upcoming. Note that word inevitable. Unavoidable. Brought on by powers greater than us individuals. We won’t vote this in. We’ll just realize and accept that it’s now reality whether we welcome or resist it.

    When the stream of consciousness that this realization reveals starts, the consequences emerge from our notion of life effortlessly and endlessly. The mark of paradigm. The birth of involuntary adaptation. The realization of rebirth.

    Let it be.

  8. When I returned from the Orient in 1945 and matriculated in 1946 under PL16 and earned an AB degree in 1946 (without incurring a penny of debt, I never would have thought at age 20 that I would be reading these posts now. I suppose we then had a population, a congress, and political parties who actively decided to make us the “Greatest Generation” by subsidizing higher education for qualified veterans while providing other benefits for others.
    Those programs, among others, changed the face of America.
    I hope, but doubt, that American veterans of Bush’s wars are similarly supported.
    Okay “Conservatives”, let’s hear it for today’s students who, thanks to you, incur mountains of debt in order to acquire qualifications to compete for employment and can’t refinance.

  9. I believe that we all know the curse of “for-profit” colleges. It is a disgrace to our nation that they were ever allowed to exist and even more of a disgrace that they are still allowed to stay in business…….all at the taxpayers’ expense to fill the pockets of investors that have had (until recently) little-to-no financial risk. I cannot recall the rate of their student loan defaults at the moment, but it is very very high. Even worse, the graduation rates are very low at for-profit institutions.

    Sheila, what is your opinion of Mitch Daniels creating businesses at Purdue with the pharmaceutical industry? He is definitely turning Purdue into a for-profit institution. I realize this has already been done at other east coast universities. Is this being done only because of the reduced taxpayer subsidization of state universities in the past decade?

    One last comment regarding students in Indiana schools. Here is a link to a headline on today’s Fort Wayne Journal Gazette paper http://www.journalgazette.net/news/local/schools/Homeless-students-on-the-rise-9120590.

    The article is about how our state’s number of homeless students has increased during the recession. It is truly a sad state of affairs. How in the world can these students put their full effort into learning when they don’t know where they will be sleeping or where their next meal will come from?

    We are all going to be paying for this for generations. It will be too difficult for these individuals to can rise up out of such severe poverty to find an opportunity to succeed in our selfish and uncaring society.

  10. Doug and Anthony. It is not just “the thinkers will survive” i.e the individualistic Western Male socialized survival of the fittest meme. As long as the thinkers survive who cares about everybody else? I think the point of Sheila’s post and the article is that education used to be public and available to many and now it is available to few. Millions of the “greatest generation” and the baby boomers got to their station in life due to the affordability of their degrees. In the past many people had a few degrees from different disciplines but today that is impossible. Education is not just for “thinkers” but to give everyone the opportunity to BECOME a thinker. Developing human potential. As someone who went to school in the 70’s and went back to grad school in the early 2000’s my observation is that many of the college students today are not comparable to the students in earlier generations. I think that is primarily due to the lack of breadth in their college curriculum, too much focus on vocational training and not enough liberal arts i.e. developing human potential.

  11. I put forward that our public institutions of higher learning are only as good as the student population accepted from our K-12 schools, the foundation of all higher learning. When 4-year universities establish courses for remedial English and Mathematics, they are admitting students who lack the basic academic necessities for moving toward a degree in four years. Yet, these students are borrowing money for loans, amassing great debt, and dropping out under the pressure of attempting to survive in classes for which they lack the requisite skills.

  12. So, how is education to be in a networked world?

    First the recognition and complete acceptance that there is no more essential responsibility for each generation than the preparation of their successors. More important even than the accomplishments and progress of the generation in charge.

    Second the recognition and complete acceptance that we are all differently abled and the fact of connection removes any stigma of any level of ability. My liver is differently abled than my kidneys. Is either less important to me? Am I, regardless of my abilities, less able to contribute to the success of the network? No.

    Third the recognition of the leverage of the formative years. How learning to learn, to socialize, to contribute, to collaborate are the first and greatest lessons. They are the essentials of existence to the human race which is essential to the quality of each individual life. Stuff more important than any two parents can muster.

    Fourth the acceptance that there is a set of essential facts without which we are all disabled from full contribution. We’ve discussed them here. Science, civics, health, economics micro and macro, statistics, managing man machine interfaces, art in all of its forms as the essentials for communication. Some come easier to some than others but the consequence of that is only that we each have to work harder on our more difficult topics but can achieve more effortlessly on others.

    Fifth the recognition and acceptance of the fact that once the common core is mastered there should be no limits to specialization. If someone is able and inclined to spend 90 years of learning and teaching to know more about some narrow slice of human knowledge than any human ever before, that’s more than adequate benefit to all of those connected to them.

    All of this enabled by the continuous improvement of what we think of today as the Internet. The machine based memory and distribution of mankind’s unique contribution to the universe, the understanding of it.

    This is not a proposal but an interpretation of what will inevitably happen as we adapt to the environment that we now create.

    Life freed from constraints. The realization of life’s full potential at least for now. Life beyond power and ownership and class and limits. Life at its limits not ours.

  13. “Life freed from constraints. The realization of life’s full potential at least for now. Life beyond power and ownership and class and limits. Life at its limits not ours.” Pete, this could be a mission statement penned by Chomsky, a compliment.

    Now going back to the fifth recognition, the nuts and bolts recognition, where it’s accepted that a common core of knowledge should be mastered before moving on to unlimited areas of specialization. The K-12 public schools continue to grapple with teaching students this common core of knowledge, and it’s increasingly more difficult as education reform appears dictated by national corporate interests.

  14. BSH. I couldn’t agree more. Corporate power is fighting tooth and nail against it’s certain demotion to irrelevance.

    But power has never before competed with connection at this level so, IMO, will act like any military opponent. They fight until overwhelmed.

    As I tried to say I’m not trying to invent anything just peer over the horizon at what’s coming.

    I see power losing inevitably but far from gracefully. That’s not its way.

  15. It used to be that power was conferred by violence. Then by money. Next is connection.

    Of course the earliest indication of that last evolutionary step was democracy. That’s why we’ve suffered so much by those who believe that wealth should have been the final evolutionary step.

    They will learn that power is not taken but given. And it’s not the currency of democracy. Connection is.

    Certainly a current example is Pope Francis.

  16. Pete, I actually believed the DFER (Democrats for Education Reform, aka Dollars for Education Reform) had disbanded, but I was mistaken. The group still exists and continues to endorse candidates who espouse the ed reform agenda which aligns with the Republican agenda for ed reform.


  17. I’m not sure exactly how this fits but one principle that I think applies to all professions is that there has to be constant improvement and that requires means to identify superior performance. It’s what we expect and should from both students and teachers.

    I don’t know what your views are on that. I know that my views are not widely shared by education professionals but I hear very few solutions offered.
    What’s your view?

  18. Pete, I understand what you’re saying, and there are avenues where professional educators can be recognized for their particular expertise. Just as medical doctors may, or may not, be Board certified for their particular specialty, K-12 educators also may, or may not, have National Board Certification. Board Certification is never mandated, is never required by any State for issuing licenses; however, Board Certification does set aside those educators as having a documented set of specialty expertise that is recognized in each State in the US.

    North Carolina ranks #1 in the number of public school educators who are National Board Certified, well over 20,000 educators. These 20,000+ NC educators move to a different salary schedule where they earn 12% more annually. Our neighbor to the south, Kentucky, has approximately 3,200 NBCT’s who receive an annual $2,000 salary bonus for the life of their National Board Certificate, which factors into retirement. Additionally, new NBCTs with master’s degrees are permitted to apply to EPSB for a permanent rank change to Rank 1, the highest KY educator license equivalent to an Ed.S.

    Indiana has 168 National Board Certified Teachers including State Superintendent Ritz. Financial recognition for the NBCT’s in Indiana is left to the individual districts and are not available unless one elects to view all the IN public school district websites.

    That’s my view and my personal recommendation for recognizing teachers. Many will disagree.

    Link to the NBPTS (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards) is here: http://www.nbpts.org/

  19. Board certification certainly seems like a good step to me but of course the real value of it depends on the details of the process. I assume that testing is involved and the value of testing is always in the details of the design of the test.

    I think a good addition to that would be recognition of superior teachers. In FL that takes the form of the Golden Apple award which seems well founded but as always it’s the details that really count.

    In addition to that I think that there is still progress to be made in mentoring teachers by those recognized as the best in the school or district and as importantly the firing of incompetent teachers. I don’t seem to remember ever being exposed to a functional process for that in any school system.

  20. Pete, let’s imagine if you were an accomplished high school English, Physics, or Government teacher, would you prefer fulfilling the process to become Board Certified or being named the recipient of the local Golden Apple award?

  21. I look at them as complementary. Different objectives. I know in FL (Ft Myers where I volunteer) the Golden Apple is highly prized.

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