It seems fitting that some of the activity inaugurated by the Occupy Wall Street movement migrated from city squares to college campuses, where students, from Berkeley to the City University of New York (CUNY), are protesting against the rising cost of their educations. Undeterred by pepper spray or police batons, they struggle to preserve the evanescent American dream of a top-flight affordable college education available to all. But, unless there are major transformations within academe and the rest of society, they may be fighting a losing battle.
Just as the frontier once allowed an enterprising individual to get ahead (or so the story went), by the middle of the 20th century, higher education had become the main engine of social mobility in the United States. A college degree, it was believed, would boost its holders into the middle class and then keep them and their children there. Recently, however, as the US economy turned sour, that promise no longer holds. Not only have rising tuitions and unmanageable student debt threatened to put a first-rate higher education out of reach for many of the 99 per cent, but it has also become harder for graduates to enter the well-paying careers they went to college for.
The economic insecurities that have blasted so many students' hopes did not originate on campus. They stem in large part from the ascendance of a neoliberal polity that worships the corporate sector and seeks to shrink the state. Businesses pursue the bottom line by shedding jobs, while demanding lower taxes and fewer regulations. The very concept of a common good, of a system that nurtures citizenship and offers all in the US the benefits the market does not provide, has lost its meaning.
In response, higher education has also abandoned the common good. Most in the US now view it solely from a narrowly economic perspective. Vocational training has replaced the liberal arts, while administrators strive to make their campuses engines of economic growth, rather than sites for intellectual experimentation and meaningful cultural encounters. Of course, graduates need to earn a living, but they also need to have a life worth living. And adapting colleges and universities to today's profit-driven environment imposes financial and educational costs that may simply be too high - for students, for the academy and for that elusive common good.Read he rest at Al Jazeera
The fading dream of higher education in the US
by Ellen Schrecker, professor of history at Yeshiva University
(h/t Kevin Fathi via email)