I've often struggled with the emerging dynamics of higher education being a commodity. This slippery slope has now taken us (i.e. students, families, and employers of graduates) from a place of students aspiring for a "better quality of life" to little more than a transaction on the way to a job. Not that receiving a college degree should be disconnected from the acquisition of workforce preparation, but the issue is that it should never have become the primary purpose of a higher education.Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal demonstrates, for some (if not many) students and families, the ticket to college has now become a commodity for which wealthy families will pay a handsome price. And the more elite the institution, which is often projected through large applicant pools and few acceptances (although some deny it), the higher the price! That higher education is a commodity in this sense undermines the broader purposes of college attendance and it also perpetuates the wealth inequality that is tearing at the fabric of our democratic society. As Sunwoo Hwang commented in an Inside Higher Education article, the real scandal goes beyond pay for play in that it is "not just rich kids getting into schools they don't deserve, it's low-income students who can't go to the schools they deserve."
Suze Orman's speech to the 2021 NASPA Virtual conference was apparently to have focused on financial literacy. Response to Orman was so negative that NASPA leadership issued an apology including the statement, "Suze's comments tied self-worth to financial progress, ignored the difficulties that many individuals experience when navigating existing systemic structures and tools, and used offensive language to describe the area of Chicago in which she grew up." NASPA also noted that it would not post Orman's speech on their platform for later viewing. While some criticized Orman for being corporate and lacking an understanding of higher education, others attributed the backlash, particularly among younger and more diverse members, as a reflection of the generational differences among student affairs staff. The controversy over Orman's speech continued when some defended Orman's speech as an example of free speech that should be protected while others viewed her speech is the result of incompetence - not knowing her audience and properly contextualizing her point related to financial management.
I ponder how these two incidents are related. How has the commodification of higher education overwhelmed broader purposes and what kind of soul searching is now required in order to recenter higher education beyond simply being a ticket to economic prosperity?