The Historical Expansion of Higher Education

In Chapter 2 of Dr. Steve Brier’s text, we see the extensive history of public education in California and New York as a result of the Zook Commission of the 1940’s. Driven, like many institutions, by the economic shifts (positive and negative) of a post-war state, both states institute a tri-part system of higher education. As a native Californian, I was impressed by Brier’s clear discussion of the hierarchical structure in California, a structure that he admits still maintains its hold today. While a handful of California State Universities grant doctoral degrees, the exclusivity of this terminal degree is still largely reserved for University of California students. The prestige of these universities is akin to that of exclusive private universities. As a result, community colleges and CSUs educate the vast majority of practitioners and professionals at a variety of levels.

The “success” of the tri-part structure was not as strong in New York, but the tensions between the private elite schools and the growing public institutions were much like the UC-CSU wars on the west. The fight for access to education for all students was clear on both coasts, but New York actually maintained this commitment for a lengthier period of time than its western counterpart. What we notice is this need for public education but a state government refusal to provide necessary funding.

As the student population grew and the number of institutions followed suit, the hierarchal tension trickled down to student populations and manifested itself in student resistance (50-58). Ironically, the UC Chancellor’s attempt to maintain a bureaucratic structure bent on UC elitism did not account for the student-led Free Speech Movement’s mission to undermine such systems. Sadly, while these movements led to the revitalization of the social sciences and an expansion of community colleges (along with an increase in consciousness raising among the masses) on both coasts and in-between, they eventually adversely affected the blurring of the stratification of these growing public institutions. Consequently, remediation was essentially removed from the CUNY senior colleges, and student tuition was integrated at the junior, senior, and graduate levels on both coasts.

Dr. Brier’s work elucidates the contradictions of equitable access to education and the maintenance of systems of economic power. It speaks to this nation’s simultaneous attempt to meet the needs of marginalized populations as it adheres to business management models. At the risk of sounding like Marx (and a number of radicals), I read this work as an explanation of the inevitable tensions that arise from an educational system that is born out of an industrial capitalistic (and sexist and racist) economic structure and political structure. While the aims of the Zook report carry significant merit, the deeply flawed economic and governmental structures of the nation ensured limits. And the current neoliberal movements have spurred a new wave of defunding of higher education (65-66) that could very well mean a retrogression.

Upon reading this text, I could not help but think of my longstanding love-hate relationship with UC schools (not meant to incite convo). Outside of that, I was riveted by the live broadcasts of over-enrolled undergrad courses, the connections to Little Brother, the rich historical accounts, and the mention of the mechanization of education. A number of questions came to mind:
*What do I do with this new information?
*Is there an underlying conversation of “quality” across these higher ed systems?
*What does this history reveal about power? Did the students REALLY win?
*What do we make of education now? How close/far are we to/from the Zook vision and how do we gauge that?
*How do we explore curriculum & pedagogy at these three levels of education?
*What does this narrative of education funding politics say about our history and future in higher ed?

Please don’t answer all my questions–just thinking aloud…

2 thoughts on “The Historical Expansion of Higher Education

  1. Sakina Laksimi Morrow

    *What do we make of education now? How close/far are we to/from the Zook vision and how do we gauge that?

    When reading the Brier piece, the role and history of the Zook commission really stood out to me for two inter-related reasons: first, have I become so cynical that I am both surprised and skeptical of the rhetoric of freedom and equality as a real motivator in free and open higher education? Second, do all the other motivations (political pressure, the movement to pacify dissenting voices, capitalist expansion) make authentically democratic/egalitarian motivations worthless? Yes, the development of any institution, let alone higher education, is multifaceted and multifarious. The purpose of education is neither singular nor static, and changes with unfolding historical events and social conditions. Today we may lament capitalism and education for preparing a global worker. Yesterday I had a conversation with a 17 year old about what she wanted to do with her life. It is difficult to pick apart the “good” reasons and the “bad” reasons and the hierarchy of who knows best. The article did, in the words of Sara, make me feel like there is a fair amount of naval-gazing operating in academia. In one way this is good because if it were not for this institution, what critical analysis would go on in such a systemic manner (yes of course I am not discounting social and political movements born out of the streets, the factories, women’s living rooms and union halls)? To another, can we still embrace some element of truth about the ability for public education to provide an opportunity for democratic participation and citizenship?

  2. Sara Vogel, PhD. (she/her)

    *What does this narrative of education funding politics say about our history and future in higher ed?

    To answer your question, Robert, nothing good. I haven’t yet read Brier’s article — sorry for hijacking your thread to discuss other readings, it’s the only one up so far. But if your cogent summary and the other readings for this week are any indication of his argument, the 1960s were the Golden Era for equality of opportunity for a number of reasons which go beyond the expansion of federal funding for higher ed, and its been a declension narrative ever since. Kamentz cites the war on poverty acts, the ability one had to live a middle class lifestyle with a manufacturing job and a high school diploma or less, and strong unions as being behind the “tide that lifts all boats” trend of that day. Since then, costs of higher ed have risen, social welfare programs beyond the “human capital” approach to education have ended, there’s not enough political will to expand the system to the extent we’d need to even if we wanted to use education as a lever for mass social mobility, and of course, the unions have been busted and the manufacturing jobs have been outsourced. I’ve learned about the failures of the human capital paradigm in all of the Urban Ed classes I’ve taken, but a phrase from Kamentz’ work sums it all up: “COLLEGE AS A WELFARE PROGRAM IS ABILITY-TESTED NOT MEANS TESTED”

    Academics can be hyperbolic and doomsday, and perhaps navel-gazing academics even more so, but it seems to me this set of readings offers a particularly bleak picture for everything: the role universities might play in equalizing opportunity in this country, the quality of teaching and learning at institutions, job security for professors and academic laborers, and academic freedom — also, to answer your question and be selfish for a minute, these readings don’t hold good news for me personally.

    In Bosquet, I learned that odds are the funding I receive as a doctoral student will be the last academic job I will hold, unless I want to teach a patchwork of courses for far less than I’ll be worth. By the time I graduate, I will fulfill my purpose as a “waste product” of the system, as tenured jobs are in short supply. “It’s not the PhDs are overproduced, but that jobs in a bundle of tenure, dignity, scholarship, and a living wage are underproduced” (41).

    To de-personalize this conversation a little bit, I want to turn to this question you posed: How do we explore curriculum & pedagogy at these three levels of education?

    Anya Kamentz’ TED Talk (and probably part 2 of her book, I haven’t gotten past the doomsday chapters), mentions the role that technology can play in revolutionizing the University so it becomes accessible to far more people in even more diverse ways than Kerr could have even imagined in his “multiversity” chapter. Maybe online communities of practice (found in MOOCs, crowd-sourced evaluations of student work) and e-textbooks are the answer to our woes. But the cynic in me agrees with Anthony Carevale, who she cites in chapter 2: If higher ed is already a $320 billion sector, then “Where does the next $320 billion come from? There’s a fantasy we’ll do it with computers or finding savings and efficiencies in a $320 billion budget. It’s a loaves and fishes speech.” My skepticism also comes from Lepore’s article — even if higher ed spaces wanted to “innovate” or “disrupt” their way out of calamity with ed tech solutions, there is no possible way of knowing whether “edupreneurial” shocks to the system will actually catch on. “Disruptive innovation” is a term founded on a particular hindsight reading of shaky evidence by business-school types.

    Maybe the next half of the readings will offer some hope for us all…

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