The commodification of education

It truly is the day of the capitalist in the U.S. Capitalism as an economic philosophy and driver of business world thinking and practices seems to have become synonymous with democracy. Anything that can be turned into a ‘commodity’ to be bartered, traded, or sold is being ‘commodified.’ Even education.

Let me give you some examples:

School to work policies that promote the primary purpose of education is to graduate and get a good job.

Verbal statements made by leaders that indicate their number one priority is good jobs.

Statements made by those seeking state funding for education stating that ‘education is the key to a good job’ or that ‘college graduates, over a lifetime, make XXXX dollars more than non-college graduates.’

The push for more graduates from technical colleges, community colleges, and certificate programs where those graduates ‘get right into what they need to be successful in the workplace.’

A plethora of books and articles decrying the sad state of higher education where students go to school to party, where faculty don’t teach anything applicable to the ‘real world’, and where everyone is getting ripped off by paying loads of money for a degree that doesn’t guarantee a job that pays enough to cover the cost of repaying student loans.

It truly is a heyday for those who view education as a commodity…where knowledge can be packaged and delivered to students via internet in learning modules that students work through to get the skills needed to be successful at work. And if students can get the knowledge and skills needed through that approach, then college really isn’t needed. Why go to all the expense? Just put together a program for yourself using all of the worldwide resources available at your fingertips, package it neatly, create a portfolio showing what you did, and issue yourself a ‘diploma.’

While I believe that there is some truth in what is being written regardless of source, I believe that much of the current rhetoric about what education should be is short-sighted, dangerously narrow, and often displays a glaring ignorance of the mission, values, and purposes of public education in a democratic society.

Again, let me give you some examples of why I believe those things:

1. The Lumina Foundation report that speaks to the broad and essential skills, attitudes, and knowledge that college graduates need to be successful in the workplace and in life: specialized knowledge; broad, integrative knowledge; intellectual skills; applied learning; and civic learning:

2. Many books and articles written over the past centuries about the importance of education and an educated populace in creating, sustaining, and recreating a democratic society and living a democratic way of life where social justice and equity, tolerance and understanding, a sense of personal responsibility for the welfare of others, an understanding of resource stewardship, and the ability and desire to work effectively across cultures (and even across countries) becomes increasingly more important every single day.

3. What about Making Place Matter where universities provide key resources and assistance to regional development…economic, health and welfare, policy creation, leadership development, etc.?

4. My own lived experience on the INSIDE of public and higher education and seeing how lives are often changed; how awakenings occur as students EXPERIENCE the interactions and situations that place them in unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances where they learn to adjust, where they gain insights they never would have gained from sitting in front of a computer; and where the principles of what it means to live and work within a democratic society are learned through living them in organizations and clubs, in field experiences where learning is applied, and even in classrooms where instruction and assessment of learning is often a collaborative between professor/instructor and student.

I could go on about this, but will end with this for now.

Yes, we must address access, cost, and the very structure of higher education.

Yes, students can learn in a variety of ways using current technologies that provide phenomenal opportunities for educators.

Yes, a person can access information and cobble together a diploma.

Yes, you can package information.

However, is a diploma simply a certification that the student has gained information that will make them successful in life and on the job?

Or is it something more?