Monday, January 26, 2015

Did the Purpose of College Change on February 28, 1967?

Ronald Reagan is to blame.  On February 28, 1967 the Governor of California announced that he was going to remove certain "intellectual luxuries" from college campuses in the University of California system.  In doing so, he sent a clear message that the purpose of college was less about intellectual curiosity and more about finding a job.

At least this is the argument of Dan Berrett in a recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  It is a compelling one.

Here is a taste:

As his second term and the 1970s began, demographics, economic uncertainty, and world events reinforced Reagan’s ideology. Two philosophical shifts, toward social egalitarianism and free-market orthodoxy, took hold.

Higher education felt those shifts. Professorial authority diminished. The unraveling consensus on the curriculum accelerated. Colleges increasingly viewed students as customers. Economic inequality and insecurity rose, as did the wage premium of a college degree. And that became one of higher education’s main selling points.

The long postwar boom, for both the economy and for higher education, was ending, and the oil embargo, in 1973, further strained the economy. Enrollment data showed students fleeing from the liberal arts, disciplines commonly associated with a liberal education, and flocking to professional and pre-professional programs.

Higher education became more of a buyer’s market. Overall enrollments dropped. As that trend continued, colleges sought out new customers, especially adults and first-generation students, many of whom wanted their investments to pay off in jobs.

Read the rest here.