Obama University

I'm Watermark


HIGHER EDUCATION in the U.S. is in crisis. With more than $1 trillion in outstanding student debt, college costs that continue to skyrocket and a still weak job market, many are starting to ask questions about what the future of higher education is going to look like.

Last week, in a two-day bus tour across the Northeast, President Obama laid out his vision in a plan that bears a striking resemblance to the administration's Race to the Top program, the public school policy that tied school funding to test scores. "It is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results," Obama said.

The program centers around a "rating system" that will "encourage colleges to do more with less." Federal funding for public institutions, which currently stands at approximately $70 billion annually, would be tied the institution's ranking.

The plan would also negatively impact individual students. First, as David Feldman, chair of the economics department at William and Mary College, noted, a national ratings system that ties federal funding to test scores will likely cause institutions to discriminate against some students if the institution feels accepting them might damage their rating--the same way that charter schools can turn away students who might hurt test scores.

Such discrimination would reflect the racism and class inequality that run rampant in American society, and as a result, even more students of color and working-class students would be shut out of the higher education system.

Obama also hinted that students would be held to stricter performance standards or larger class loads. "We're going to have to ask more of students who are receiving federal aid as well," he said.

Now, more than a decade into the assault against public education and more than five years into the financial crisis that has devastated workers across the U.S., the sharpest attacks yet on the higher education system seem to be on the horizon. The warning signs have been present for years. Already, skyrocketing college costs have led to bloated growth of administration overheads without translating into increased instruction and other resources for students and academic workers.

Now, higher education is being "restructured," and it's taking myriad forms: Massive reorganization of academic work has trapped many as permanent adjuncts, making little better than poverty wages. University administrations are seeking to bust graduate employee unions and unionization drives. University services are being privatized at the same time that budget cuts fall disproportionately on programs in the humanities, social sciences, arts and cultural studies programs that students struck, occupied and marched for in the 1960s and 1970s.

Your thread title got me thinking. Is it only a matter of time until roads, public buildings, naval vessels, schools, hospitals, parks, universities and perhaps even municipalities are named for the Great Warlord?