From time to time I write about the commercialization of higher education. Some of my writings are even based on actual research, using interviews with administrators and faculty at various universities. Yet, I have to confess that my own administrative involvements –two long stints as chair of large departments– have provided me with insights that no interview could provide, sensitizing me to the commercial pressures affecting virtually everything about higher education these days.
A case in point: the emergence of revenue generating Master’s programs. This is of course a global phenomenon –one in which European universities are actually ahead of their US counterparts. American universities are catching up rapidly, though, largely due to declining levels of state support for higher education and to demographic shifts that have reduced the supply of naïve 18-year olds with access to federal loans. Another factor (which sorely needs attention) is the spread of new budget systems such as “resource centered management” which require each academic division to generate its own revenue, rather than relying on the largesse of the central administration. The results of these pressures have compelled many universities to fetishize enrollments to an unprecedented degree. Thus one exasperated colleague of mine, appalled by the revenue-driven nature of curricular design these days, remarked that she had begun to feel “we’re not trying to educate students so much as capture them.” It seems that we’ve moved beyond seeing students as mere “customers,” and now view them as virtual ATMs.