The Men Behind the Curtain

As part of my doctoral research, I am conducting an institutional analysis of the growth of for-profit colleges. What about the mid 1990s made the environment so ripe for rapid expansion? Kevin Kinser gets at this neo-institutionally with a fine analysis of regulation and financialization.

Yet, there must something more than regulatory changes and market innovation to such a massive change in college-going in such a short period of time. Something created a million new people who suddenly wanted a college degree.

In my sample of currently enrolled for-profit students there is one motivation that subsumes all others: job insecurity.

How “Admissions” Works Differently At For-Profit Colleges: Sorting and Signaling,” tressiemc22

I found this blog via Education and Class and it seems worth following. In the next several years I expect a lot of curtains to be drawn, revealing that the wizards behind the for-profit sector are simply salesmen with a flair for theater. Their main trick was a sexy dual appeal: first, to our sense of injustice– that great mass of people who have no access to a college education– and second, to our technological and consumer fetishes.

When I say “we” I mean those of us who study these things and are doing well financially. In Higher Education, that means the tenured and tenure track faculty, now a small minority of higher education teachers. We loved our technology, we had enough money at least to be early adopters, and we thought that these new communication technologies would help us reach people who had never been reached, much less heard. A great dream.

We are slowly learning to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain; I lost my bid for tenure. I am bothered by one thing, though. As people have said in many contexts, the recent story of higher education, or, rather, the historians, tend to ignore the teachers when they tell the story of the system and the students. This isn’t just a story about students and new institutions and class, it is also a story about creating the adjunct system.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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