The American commitment to class mobility through education has always sketchy, despite the myths that cluster around the idea of the American Dream. There have been times that we got serious; the post WWII GI Bill is one example. The Obama administration, too, while perhaps too preoccupied with other issues, has made an effort to strengthen access and pledged to do more.
Usually, though, we are more interested in funding and promoting the already-successful than the could-be-successful. We routinely fund public schools through local school districts, so the wealthiest neighborhoods have the best schools. The top of the educational hierarchy– the Ivy league and the like– is rich beyond belief while the bottom tiers muddle along.
In so-called hard economic times the muddling quickly goes from bad to worse as the recent California cuts demonstrated. In hard times, too, American Capitalist Culture reflexively squeezes anyone less materially privileged and so restricts mobility. I wonder how much could be saved if the California administration decided that no would get paid more than $90,000 until the crisis abated?
More importantly, hard times provide an opportunity to permanently redefine institutions. Too often, this too means less access. In this case, though, the new, more restrictive ideas of access can too easily become the norm, outlasting the crisis by many years. That’s why Chancellor Daniel L. Klaich’s trial balloon, suggesting that Nevada’s community colleges restrict enrollment, is worth watching.