The term ‘academic capitalism’ is defined by market activity such as licensing, patenting and industry consulting, competition for public and private foundation grants, reactions to pressures for research entrepreneurship, as well as faculty self-promotion via personal websites and blogs within institutions of higher education. Academia became increasingly capitalized as commitment to research and development within universities first began to increase during World War II, and was standardized by the upstart of the National Science Foundation in 1950, as well as the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1958. The federal government also highly encouraged new innovation in biomedical research, which was standardized by the National Institute of Health. When the federal government first proposed the Servicemens’ Readjustment Act, or GI Bill, the president of Harvard University, James Bryant Conant, and the president of the University of Chicago, expressed concern over the possible rapid expansion of higher education. Both Hutchins and Conant argued that opportunities for education should be made available to veterans on the basis of one’s ability, most likely through a form of national examination, and that the GI Bill should be revised to subsidized for only a ‘carefully selected group’ (Bankston 2011). Although the pool of applicants expanded in the years following World War II, new techniques of selecting students ensured that the elite institutions such as Chicago and Harvard were able to admit students based on their academic preparedness. The GI bill also stimulated enrollments directly subsidizing veterans’ education and shaping college as a realistic option for the veterans’ families, neighbors, and associates. The tools for student selection in the postwar period allowed the most highly reputed schools to draw talent from both wealthy as well as non-affluent families. Before World War II, less than 5 percent of Americans held credentials from institutions of higher education. By 1950 the number of Americans eighteen to twenty-four year olds with college degrees had risen to 11 percent in 1950 to 17 percent in 1960. By 2008 around 30 percent of U.S. citizens were college graduates. By the 1970s a higher proportion of workers held degrees of higher education as well as the elite jobs that came with them (Bankston 2011). This increased number of workers with levels of higher education meant that the steady growth within technical positions could absorb the growing numbers of graduates. However, by 1980 the production of people with college degrees had begun to outpace the available places in professional and technical careers. It is argued that U.S. economic growth has become more dependent on technological sophistication and that the nation must produce more college-trained employees to keep pace between the growth of an increasingly technological society and education. Despite this notion for the last few decades the number of citizens with college degrees has risen more rapidly than the percentage of workers within fields of technology, and most degree holders have entered jobs within the service industry mostly as management. By the start of the 21st century, more than 40 percent had degrees (Bankston 2011).
As the academic labor market has become increasingly marketized, it has also undergone changes in terms of the ratio of tenure-track and tenured faculty to students in the majority of research universities. The majority of teaching work has been replaced by either part-time, adjunct, or graduate student instructors who are being paid on a class by class basis. Additionally, there has been an increase in the amount of administrative staff to manage revenue flows, supervise outreach programs, as well as create accountability and efficiency schemes (Hoffman 2012). By 1963, the federal government provided more than 70% of the funding for university research and development (Popp Berman 2012). By 1994, a world-wide agreement was signed by 124 countries that aimed to ‘liberalize’ world markets by privatizing providers of state or public status, as well as decentralizing national power structures, and by the development of new, state-free centers of power (Mitter 2004).
Increased corporatization of academia has also created an institutional model which emphases reliance on top down-administration and the dominant perspective of students as customers. By 2009, the number of colleges who charged $40,000 or more for tuition increased from 2 in 2003 to 200. Corporate pressures on academia, including ranking systems have also spurred cheating scandals within particular colleges. Pressures to obtain the so called ‘best’ education for one’s child based on these rankings has also caused parents of middle class children to spend exorbitantly on SAT preparatory courses, college advisors, and athletic coaches to ensure that their students get in the very best, and usually the most expensive programs (Mills 2012). Currently 74 percent of the student body originates from the top quarter of the socioeconomic scale, while only 3 percent come from the bottom quarter (Mills 2012). The growth of the corporate university is also growing exponentially. In 2010, thirty eight American schools had sixty-five branches in thirty-four countries (Mills 2012). This type of growth has been perpetuated by an increasing global population who sees the necessities of education to survive within in an economy that has become increasingly technological and service based.
One trend that correlates with the increased corporatization of education in the U.S. is the over credentialization of education, or the notion that everyone who has the desire to attend college should be able to (Bankston 2011). One problem that a highly marketized and over credentialized system of education has on students is that it tends to place emphasis on earning a degree that will grant one employment within a specialized sector of the service economy, rather than exploring or engaging in a variety of topics that may require particular skill and critical thinking that would engage students with a wide range of ideas and concepts that interact and correspond in ways that are both unique and societally relevant. A notion that is held is that the nation needs an increased number of college graduates, President Obama has even stated his commitment to this by proposing a budget that would transform Poll Grants into entitlements, which would extend the college funds that Poll Grants provide to an additional one million students.
The over credentialization of education is also correlated with the increased marketization of education. More degrees are being given to students in order to grant them opportunities to remain relatively successful within an increasingly service based and technologically dependent economy. However, the cost of higher education remains high and thus relatively unattainable to the majority of working to middle class citizens. Even the majority (56% ) of those who do manage to earn bachelor’s degrees, do not obtain occupations in the fields they desire (TED.com ?). Those who have remained in power and continue to have access to economic and educational resources, may be attempting to assist those who lack the financial as well as cultural means to succeed in the system, but nevertheless continue to perpetuate a system that does not properly acknowledge major issues such as a burgeoning population and lack of institutions whose primary purpose is to equitably distribute goods to the majority of the population.
The more universities collaborate with major corporations to provide them with research either beneficial to businesses or for an extant social problem, there is arguably less time spent on considering the abilities of current students. In either case, a capitalist economy is perpetuated that does not seriously consider alternative forms such as anarcho syndicalism as well as cooperative economies that have been suggested by forward thinkers such as Victor Fresco and Donna Meadows of the Zeitgeist movement. The capitalist system fails to reflect on its major faults which are that it still does not provide equitable opportunities and resources for its members to become critically and actively engaged citizens, with the skills and motivation to engage in extant social issuesl. Thusly, a capitalist system is perpetuated which continuously puts greater pressure on the working and middle classes to succeed based on the goals and aspirations of those in power, including major CEOs and politicians.
How could the history of increased marketization in education has affected the way in which the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge is defined, framed, and constructed within traditional as well as distance learning programs? Additionally, how are the ways in which these various forms of knowledge are defined, framed, and constructed shaping the way in which students learn? In other words, are these forms actually effective in educating students? Finally, what type of citizens are these new forms of knowledge dissemination and acquisition shaping current students into and are these the type of citizens that should be considered valuable to the well- being and advancement of society? Would future systems of education that utilize distance learning be able to engage students with a form of education that accurately and properly informs them of current social problems, as well as other crucial elements of education including the physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Additionally, would future forms of education integrate the various fields of education (the physical sciences, humanities, and arts) into programs that could properly motivate, engage, and stimulate students imaginations and critical thinking?. Currently, distance learning programs are not widespread in use and only a small percentage of students have taken distance learning courses within the U.S. (20%) and less than 2% are enrolled permanently within a distance learning program. It is obvious that highly trained educators would be most adept at making use of distance learning, as well as adapting programs to suit their own syllabi and coursework. Distance learning programs would also benefit from continuation of pre-testing in programs to verify whether they are actually successful in terms of students’ retention of the material.
Bankston, Carl L. 2011. “The mass production of credentials: subsidies and the rise of the higher education industry”. Independent Review. 15(3) 325.
Hoffman, Steve. G. 2012. “Academic Capitalism”. Contexts 11(4): 12-13.
Mitter, Wolfgang. 2004. “Rise and decline of education systems: a contribution to the history of the modern state” Compare, 34(4).
Popp Berman, Elizabeth. 2012. Creating the Market University: How Academic Science. Became an Economic Engine. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.