The costs of higher ed have risen exponentially over the last few decades. That goes without saying. UC Berkeley in the 1980s cost $650 a semester. UT-Austin now costs about $5,000 a semester. No wonder the rate of return or the VFM (value for money) for students is decreasing. The causes of that rise aren’t questioned at all in the report.
What’s tragic (and self-serving in documents such as the Goldman Sachs higher ed report) is that states, prodded in no small part by the dilemmas of finance capitalists, have been funding public higher ed less and less for decades, forcing these institutions to re-shape themselves, not only as conductors of an ever-growing list of state and federal policies, but as foundation grant seekers, real estate development businesses (with a side mission of education), and deploying more and more adjunct and contingent faculty labor, leaving these institutions ever more focused on administrative priorities and employees rather than instructional priorities and employees.
Essentially, the neoliberal state has abandoned the idea of public (higher) education, forcing these institutions to turn themselves upside-down to mimic business efficiencies (i.e., corporatization in higher ed), and then to be found wanting for not purely running like very successful businesses; and forcing students and families to bear more and more of the costs while instructional quality declines through the over-use of professionally less supported part-time instructors, and then declaring that now might be the time for businesses proper to step in and do the job of training (educating?) workers (students?) properly.
We seem to have, at bottom, a metaphor problem, simultaneously talking about higher education through a lattice of mutually defeating terms: customer, worker, student, consumer, vocation, education, skills, training. The list goes on and branches out: teacher, educator, trainer, instructor, coach, faculty, mentor, facilitator, professor, guide, leader. Or on another branching semantic axis: discipline, practice, service, studying, product, support, offering, degree, certificate, grade, project, assignment. Some of these words line up with each other better than they do with others listed, and the ensuing cognitive dissonances mar policy and civic discourse.
We have almost completely lost the point of what higher education is and what it is for. If it is just job training, then I’m sure a good deal of higher education will be found wanting in terms of such vocational VFM, especially in liberal arts fields which will survive, surely enough, in only elite institutions. Now why is that? It’s not only that the privileged attendees can afford it, but that they value it for the larger things such a heady education permits them to survey.