*A Drive-by Post*
Inside Higher Ed’s Matt Reed wrote a stellar post on higher education enclosure today. Matt generally goes stellar but he was really speaking to me today. I had to highlight some of what he teases apart.
The first was a widely shared piece by Clay Shirky. It’s one of those broad-scope pieces that’s easy to nitpick in plenty of ways, and others have done a thorough job of that. The core of his argument, though, is that the basic structure of most colleges and universities has not changed in a fundamental way for a long time, because at some level, most people who work in higher education believe either that the last forty years have been an aberration and that we’re about to return to the finances of the 1960’s, or that they’re close enough to retirement themselves to ride out the clock. It’s a tough argument to write off entirely.
In that larger context, it’s easy to read changes in higher education as consistent with changes in the larger political economy. The elites are doing better than ever; everyone else is struggling, but cultural myths around merit make it difficult to organize around that struggle. To the extent that education was the preferred apolitical answer to economic struggle, an extended recession has suddenly cast college as the god that failed. Put differently, public higher education struggles to the extent that it’s trying to create a middle class for a country that no longer understands what it takes to create one.