Corporatization of America’s universities kills intrinsic value of education

By Nick Voutsinos / Columnist

The problem with American education decades ago was that it was not available to everyone. Legacies had a greater chance of getting into a school than non-legacies, and whites had a better chance than most racial minorities. Despite that, universities cost students much less than they do today.

Nowadays, everyone is legally able to attend a university, but not everyone can afford it. As student loan rates continue to rise, it is now the norm for crippling debt to come alongside a college diploma, thus making easy access to higher education more of a privilege than a right.

This is unfortunate for many, considering the pressing demands of the job market for a more specialized and educated workforce. This corporatization of higher education has led to much competition among universities to create a very elitist learning environment.

We see this in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” guide. One of the easiest ways for universities to earn elite status is by rejecting more applicants than other “middle tier” schools. After all, going to a super selective school like Harvard, which only accepts 5.8 percent of its applicants, makes a resumé much more attractive than going to a state school. So the pressure for applicants to appear as “gifted” as possible is tremendous.

The problem with this is that more often than not, gifted students tend to be more privileged than non-gifted students. At the most renowned universities in the country, 74 percent of the student body comes from the top quarter of the socioeconomic spectrum, while only 3 percent comes from the bottom quarter.

This could be due to the fact that appearing gifted is much easier to do with money and because of the specific traits universities want from their applicants. Parents need to invest a lot in their children in order to make them more attractive to colleges. Whether their money is spent on tutors or extracurriculars such as sports, parents are dropping a ton of cash on their kids. So it only makes sense that the applicant who was on the best club sport team and who had a great private tutor will have a more attractive application.

SAT scores also translate into money. More often than not, the student whose parents could afford to pay for an SAT prep class will end up having better scores than the student who could not afford it. According to an article from The New York Times, there is a “very strong positive correlation between income and test scores.” So generally speaking, the higher the income bracket in which the student sits, the higher his or her test scores will be. Of course, these kids have more of a chance getting into prestigious universities, but considering how expensive they are, it seems as though they are the only ones who could afford them, anyway.

Frankly, the corporatization of universities is only advantageous to the top-level administrators, who tend to have incomes in the millions, for colleges have changed tremendously over the years to favor administration over education. In fact, from 1998 to 2008, private colleges increased spending 22 percent on curriculum, while increasing spending on administration by 36 percent.

As a result, Universities now come with huge administrative bureaucracies. For instance, in the last 40 years, the number of administrative staffers has risen dramatically by 240 percent.

This creates a very dehumanizing effect, as there is now a great number of people between the students and administrators. It is very difficult for top-level administrators to relate to their students when only the lower-level faculty, such as teaching assistants, have constant contact with them. And the lower-level faculty really does not have much of a voice when it comes to university decisions, which may explain why university board members continue to raise prices and fund certain programs against student wishes.

So if the American education system ever wants to restore its reputation, it needs to focus more on the students and less on the profits. Every high school graduate deserves an equal chance at getting into college, and every college student needs to have a voice. Those are the first steps toward making the U.S. education system more fair and democratic.

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