John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The Meaning of the Market Mantra and the Road Less Traveled, Part 1

Drew Koch
Vice President for New Strategy, Development, and Policy Initiatives

On January 26, 2011, the University of Southern California Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice released a report analyzing the growth of corporate influence in the field of enrollment management. Written by Scott Andrew Schulz and Jerry Lucido, and titled “Enrollment Management, Inc.: External Influences on Our Practice,” the report looks at the history of the enrollment management profession in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and calls for closer examination of whether that profession is advancing business ideals in the academy at the expense of the stated educational values and mission.

That report has compelled me to write this blog. What I need to say right up front is that I am not taking issue with enrollment management professionals as individuals or the profession at large. Nor am I using this space to challenge (at least not drastically) Schultz and Lucido’s findings. What I am doing is using the report as a vehicle to ask some broader questions of this blog’s readership about the purpose of higher education and balance between what can be, at times, competing forces. Now back to the report.

Schultz and Lucido’s analysis is based on interviews with enrollment management leaders from more than fifty higher education institutions. The report caught my eye because of my research interest in what Henry Giroux and others have dubbed the “Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (MIAC). I was not alone in making the connection between the report’s findings and the broader MIAC. After noting the deluge of service solicitations that admissions and recruitment professionals received largely from for-profit corporations in the days leading up to the a recent professional association annual meeting, Schulz and Lucido shared how one of their interviewed enrollment management leaders “termed the overwhelming number of commercial enterprises present at such conferences as the ‘admissions industrial complex!’”

Of additional interest to me was the point when the authors claim this march to a more market-based mantra began. After providing a brief history of the enrollment management field from the era of the Morrill Acts through the 1960s, the report points to 1972 as the year when higher education institutions suddenly “had to compete for students and their aid dollars.” Specifically, the authors point to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that year, and the manner in which that reauthorization altered the way in which aid monies were taken from the institutions and given directly to students, as the time in which higher education in the United States began being less focused on mission and more focused on money.

The authors note that Congress had good intentions for moving in this direction – it was “an effort to give students more buying power and infuse the higher education system with market-like competition predicated on capitalist ideals.” This was not to occur at the expense of institutional missions and values. In short, market forces would encourage institutions to be more responsive to students and, by doing so, the institutions would be functioning in a mission-aligned manner. But the evidence from the past four decades suggests a gulf between desired and actual outcomes.

While I don’t disagree with the Schultz and Lucido’s broader assertions, I do think they provided a limited historical analysis of the rise of corporate/market based philosophy in academe and, as a result, simplified the manner in which it was infused into higher education in the United States. By focusing on one “trigger“ – in this case, the 1972 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act – the authors placed too much emphasis on one event. The market philosophy did not suddenly appear in 1972. It was always there. And there is more behind the rise of the market mantra in late 20th and early 21st century higher education in the United States than the report’s authors suggest.

In my next installment of this blog, I will pick up where I am leaving off here, and provide added historical context for the ongoing connection between the market place and higher education in the United States, and provide some questions for readers to ponder.

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