Many academics, especially those of us in the Composition/Rhetoric field, tend to be a bit literal. We notice diction, the way words are used. Therefore, when we see words like ‘corporatization’ used to describe higher education, we take notice. Many educators also get concerned. Traditionally, the idea that education is a business is nefarious. Academia is held in such high esteem internally, that reducing it in any way, shape, or form to anything even remotely implying commercialization is offensive. It’s just not done…internally, that is.
However, times have changed. Externally, people view higher education with a more corporate view. The ongoing investigations into gainful employment, ‘for-profit’ institutions, student debt, etc. all strongly indicate that the non-academic world views education as an industry. In their view, postsecondary institutions provide a service and a product that better deliver for customers. How can these two opposing views be brought together for the mutual benefit of education and society?
Perhaps it would be best to see the main ways this term is being used and why. Then it may help for educators to consider how this could possibly become beneficial for academia and our nation.
One typical definition of corporatization comes from Gregory Paul Johnson of ResourcesforLife.com who focuses on the term as a sort of dance between academia and industry (16 February, 2012). The more postsecondary institutions have struggled to make ends meet while also responding to the demands of internal constituents and external players, the more they have come to rely on donations from companies; these companies then have their names placed on buildings and whatever else they have supported (Johnson, 16 February, 2012). The waltz of these traditionally polar opposites (see the chart of characteristics Johnson includes) happens when each partner tends to move increasingly in synchronized fashion; the line blurs as each negatively and positively influences the other with each step, and their union as a new entity enters the scene. Therefore, increasingly the question is being asked: Should universities function as businesses?
The Occupy Wall Street movement sees the corporatization of education as entirely evil. Occupy Rhode Island , for example, defines the term mainly with characteristics like skyrocketing tuition rates and fees which have resulted in the excessive, crippling student debt plaguing the U.S. (7 February, 2012). This next economic bubble – student loan debt—is believed by some to be poised to burst and cripple the U.S. economy once more. The genesis of the situation is the devilish and greedy universities that over charge for the service they provide. Typical corporate America?
This demonization of higher education is shared by others. The outcry is almost entirely and inequitably levied against the so-called, ‘for-profits’ that are characterized as fiendish diploma mills, milking the American taxpayers out of their money, most notably by scrying for innocent students looking to spend their G.I. Bill benefits and Pell grants. The recent government investigations into gainful employment and cheating among only the ‘for-profits’ also fit into this view. Will corporate-like laws and regulations help fight this evil?
Finally, there are some who see the corporatization of higher education in a positive light. For instance, Karl Flinders of ComputerWeekly.com recently made an eloquent argument that academia must follow the corporate model in relation to Information Technology (IT) if they hope to meet the demands of digital natives, to compete with other postsecondary institutions, and lower costs (January, 2012). Again, the increasing governmental demands for merit pay, standardized testing, and teacher accountability are all examples of a positive view of the corporate model, the message being: “Create a successful graduate who lands a profitable job and get a raise.”
Many traditional academics would probably agree with Professor Ellen Schrecker whose 2010 book, The Lost Soul of Higher Education, laments the corporatization of higher education.
However, there is reason for hope, as so often is the case, the fate of the nation—or at least academia—rests with educators. The divine coupling of education and the corporation cannot be undone by mere mortals; therefore, as educators, we must first see hope in the ongoing dialog summarized in this post. Locked in this unholy marriage, we must use our own powers for good by applying our skills in our respective fields and our own pedagogical artistry to encourage and guide others including corporations to rise to the lofty ideals which gave birth to learning in the first place. Finally, we must remember that one of the aspects of teaching we enjoy most is that we are continually learning from our students. Perhaps there are some things education can learn from corporations, too, and maybe it is some of these attributes that will help bring education into a new, more innovative age. Perhaps we can even get the meaning of the term ‘corporatization’ to change into something more positive.
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