03/23/2012 01:23 pm ET Updated May 23, 2012

The Corporate University Model: Part 2

I'm jumping right back into it, so make sure to read Part 1 first.

If Education Won't Get You a Good Job, What's the Point?

When the purpose of higher education is a diploma, and the purpose of a diploma is a job, and the purpose of a better diploma is a higher-paying job, then the value of an education is measured only in dollars and cents; a massive part of the educational experience is missing. This is the corporate university model. There is a distinct difference between training and educating. Mere training integrates students into the status quo without providing them with the critical tools necessary to analyze it, and change it. If the world was a perfect place, without injustice or oppression, critical thought and the capacity to change the status quo wouldn't be such a big deal.

But, in the face of economic, social, political, and environmental crises, our generation does not have the option of blindly accepting the status quo. To put it bluntly, the cost of the status quo will be the needless loss of human life in the future.

We require something deeper than training; critical and creative inquiry that allows us approach to problems and issues from a variety of perspectives. We need education that will facilitate skepticism and engagement rather than obedience. Universities whose primary purpose is to provide an assembly-line of graduates to flood the ranks of corporate America, explicitly places our faith in corporate America to solve the world's problems. And yet, the value system of the corporation (by law) is efficiency and profit-maximization. Is that really an acceptable value system for education?

The Values of the Corporate University

With the profit motive as its moral guide, the corporate university will not be a place of free thought, and true innovation. Its innovation will be confined to scientific and technological innovation, rather than individual and collective, social and political discovery; the kind of innovation that nurtures the growth of new ideas, and new institutions. The corporate university will build better mousetrap after better mousetrap, but never fix the hole in the wall where the mice have made their nest.

At the corporate university, the ability of students to critique society decreases, and the university becomes a place of social stagnation rather than an engine of social change.
Our generation, and every generation after us, faces the seemingly insurmountable task of not only holding the world together as it explodes at the seams, but simultaneously re-inventing and re-creating it, in an attempt to improve the human community. Yet, the social, political, moral inquiry, and institutional innovation necessary for re-invention are suppressed by the corporate university model.

Who Gets an Education?

While corporate university training organized around the profit motive will likely lead to social stagnation and conformity of ideas, this still says nothing about who will receive a university education. As it is, higher education suffers from glaring problems of lowering accessibility and increasing costs. As corporate universities become more expensive and selective, their demographics will change dramatically. Lower to middle-income students without access to an advanced K-12 education, or the financial capacity to afford the increasing cost of higher education will be frozen out of the corporate university entirely, or dependent on scholarships and charity.

As private funding displaces public funding and the diversity of people and ideas is diminished, the corporate university will become an institution that serves private interests over vital public goods. The corporate university will intensify the painful inequalities of current American society, perpetuating the concept of a quality, affordable education as a privilege rather than a right, and hardening our already solidifying post-industrial economic caste system.

Why Does this Struggle Matter?

If the corporate university model begins (or continues) to dominate, it will serve private interests rather than the public good. The profit-motive will become the primary value of our education system, and our ability to create social change will be suppressed. Injustice and inequality will deepen, and our ability to collectively solve societal problems will wane. Previous generations have left us with destabilizing politics, a stumbling economy, a deteriorating environment, and a whole slew of social ills. If we are unable to receive a critical education that enables us to challenge and change the status quo, we will face serious consequences. The fight against the corporate university is at the heart of the battle of ideas in society. It's at the heart of the fight to end poverty; it's at the heart of the fight against global climate change; and it's at the heart of the fight for human rights and democracy. As students, staff, educators, and even administrators, we must fight the corporate university.

To echo Hannah Arendt (but on education rather than politics), courage is indispensable, because in education, not life, but the world is at stake.