Tag Archives: Public Education

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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…