The (excerpted) conclusions: both positive and negative outcomes result from applying a market framework/economics discourse to higher education.
The positives may be surprising, but some of the negative effects on student/faculty behaviors should not be – regardless of the reader’s political persuasion.
Who would grant that an economics (or populist) discourse can affect students/faculty?
from Chapter Five – “A Mandate for Reform”
At the system level, it is worth reflecting on the costs and benefits associated with the consumer-driven character of U.S. higher education.
- On the one hand, the empowerment of students and families to make choices in the market-place through government-supported student aid and loan programs has produced significant gains for the system as a whole.
- [A]n increased reliance on private higher-education financing has led to an expansion and diversification of higher education. More students attend college than would otherwise have been the case.
- [A]lthough diversification of higher-education systems is associated with increased inequality in educational access, the expansion of higher education that accompanies diversification overall has counterbalanced these increases, and the system as a whole has provided improved access to disadvantaged youth without any overall growth in inequality.
- Neoliberal policy makers who have advocated for increased privatization and market-based educational reforms have produced a system that has expanded opportunity for all.
What conservative policy makers have missed, however, is that market-based educational reforms that elevate the role of students as “consumers” do not necessarily yield improved outcomes in terms of student learning.
- While part of this disconnect between market-based reforms and student learning outcomes is likely the result of inadequate information on school performance being provided to students and parents . . . a greater and more enduring problem emerges in consumer preferences themselves.
- There is no reason to expect that students and parents as consumers will prioritize undergraduate learning as a outcome. [O]ther features of institutions will largely be focused on, including the quality of student residential and social life, as well as the ability with relatively modest investments of effort to earn a credential that can be subsequently exchanged for labor market – and potentially marriage market – success.
- The educational philosopher John Dewey once asserted that schools should be designed so they manifested “what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child.” While we find it likely that the “best and wisest parent” would indeed focus on student learning . . . we are profoundly skeptical that students in general, empowered as consumers or clients, will necessarily place much of an emphasis on this particular collegiate outcome.
Limited learning on college campuses is not a crisis because the institutional actors implicated in the system are receiving the organizational outcomes that they seek, and therefore neither the institutions themselves nor the system as a whole is in any way challenged or threatened.
- Parents – although somewhat disgruntled about increasing costs – want colleges to provide a safe environment where their children can mature, gain independence, and attain credentials that will help them be successful as adults.
- Students in general seek to enjoy the benefits of a full collegiate experience that is focused as much on social life as on academic pursuits, while earning high marks in their courses with relatively little investment of effort.
- Professors are eager to find time to concentrate on their scholarship and professional interests. [Academic rigor declines since students expect the greatest financial return on their “purchase” for the least effort, placing the burden for breaking down/learning assigned material and receiving passing grades upon their instructors. In turn, instructors “dumb down” material and inflate grades in an effort to balance conflicting professional/institutional demands.]
- Administrators . . . focus largely on external institutional rankings and the financial bottom line.
- Government funding agencies are primarily interested in the development of new scientific knowledge.
- In short, the system works. No actors in the system are primarily interested in undergraduate student academic growth, although many are interested in student retention and persistence.
The chapter goes on to discuss remedies focusing on transparency and the application of either internal and external (suggestive vs. coercive) mechanisms for accountability.