It’s like the author read my mind


Or maybe it’s just that the situation is so obvious. This past weekend, I gave a talk in Minneapolis about how messed up higher education in general was becoming, and specifically about the problems facing science education. And then this morning I run across an article from a couple of years ago that basically says many of the same things. I should have just phoned in How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps and spared myself all that thinking and planning and preparing stuff.

Here are the 5 steps in the article:

Step I: Defund public higher education.
Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).
Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.
Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.
Step V: Destroy the students.

Dang. I talked about all of those things. Now you can just read the article to get the gist of my discussion.


  1. robro says

    I would say there’s a step before Step 1: Defund public primary and secondary education. This assures that poor children are unprepared for higher education, which becomes a rationalize for Step 1. It also pushes the children of affluent parents into private schools, which prepares them to accept Step 1.

    In the South in the 60s, defunding public education was a direct response to desegregation and banning required religious activities, such as prayer, in public schools.

  2. says

    I don’t see these 5 steps as deliberate – as in a group of movers and shakers sat down and laid them out – but they did happen and have consequences. For the “powers that be”, un and under employed “knowledge workers” who are deep in student loan debt are much less likely to rock the boat. So while maybe not intentional, there would seem to be little incentive to fix the problem. At least by by those in power who benefit from compliance.

  3. Bill Buckner says

    I would say there’s a step before Step 1: Defund public primary and secondary education. This assures that poor children are unprepared for higher education, which becomes a rationalize for Step 1. It also pushes the children of affluent parents into private schools, which prepares them to accept Step 1.

    Way too simplistic, as far as the US is concerned. The US is outperformed by many nations that spend far less per student on public education. Furthermore, within the US, some systems with astronomical per capita spending (DC, as the best example) do not achieve commensurate results.

    You can make a strong case that in the US we spend money unwisely, but it is tough to support the claim that we don’t spend enough. Or at least that not spending enough is our primary problem. Just increasing our spending without solving congenital defects (teachers overwhelmed with paperwork, teaching to standardized exams, too many six-figure administrators, too much spent on items other than teacher salaries, teaching (especially in STEM) often seen as a “fallback” occupation, etc.) is, arguably, throwing good money after bad.

    Now you can raise my taxes as much as you want, if every nickel goes to teacher salaries. (Of course, my permission is not needed to raise my taxes.)

  4. emergence says

    This makes me scared. I’m studying to become a scientist in college, and a biologist at that. Should I worry that I’m not going to learn biology all that well? I want to be a good scientist, but I worry that flaws in the way I’m taught biology will make that difficult.

  5. dick says

    Advances in AI mean that a large educated workforce will soon not be required. The few that will be needed will come from the elite that runs things.

    The elite will not want an educated public, because educated, downtrodden citizens subjects will be the ones most likely to foment revolution.

    Jeeeez, am I becoming paranoid?

  6. wpjoe says

    I think the 5 steps are deliberate. I’m just trying to figure out the “why”.

  7. Owen says

    @Bill Buckner #3 – I recall reading an article, though I don’t have a link, that said that yes, the US spends a relatively large amount of money on K-12 education on a per capita basis. However, a lot of that money goes to transport and after school sports, and funding for classrooms facilities and staff is small once you take that into account.

  8. Bill Buckner says

    Owen #7,
    That is probably true. Everything is connected. In many countries the public transportation is so good that kids don’t need school buses. Not to mention they often ride bikes to school. Wouldn’t it be nice to use that money for teacher salaries! Also, at least in asian counties, small class size is not seen as an ultimate goal. As I understand it, in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. class sizes of 40-50 are not unusual. My wife (a product of the Taiwanese system) also told me that, at least when she was a student, kids stayed in their classrooms and the teachers rotated, which (having seen out system firsthand) she views as a significant advantage– for many reasons.

    I have a colleague who is spending a sabbatical next year in her native Romania. She enrolled her daughter (rising 9th grader, in the gifted program here, top student, etc.) into high school in Romania–and there is great concern (from the school in Romania) that she will be behind. For example she’s had no physics, while her classmates will have had a year of algebra based physics.

    We are doing something seriously wrong, and money may be part of the problem but our problems will not be solved by dumping more money into a broken system.

  9. says

    @wpjoe #6

    Cheap labor. Next question.

    Well, more seriously, a disparity in education favors the wealthy and keeps the price of labor down, so.

  10. Matrim says

    A good indicator of how much funding actually makes it to the classroom, in the US tax code there is a credit for teachers who have to purchase things for their own classroom. It is commonplace enough that teachers spend a significant amount of their personal money in their classrooms that they write it into the tax code.

  11. andyb says

    I don’t buy this narrative at all. Step #1 is driving change, but states have not defunded higher education – state funding for higher ed has increased over the last 30 years. The problem is that enrollment increases have far outpaced state funding. When you combine increasing enrollment with increased health care costs to the state (primarily through Medicaid?) – higher ed gets squeezed.