How do Profit Motives Influence Higher Education?

In today’s largely global economy, every industry has been bombarded with fierce competition, including the “industry” of education. This, unfortunately, has forced colleges to more or less turn into businesses, too often placing money as their priority over the service they provide—education. According to Derek Bok, “Intent upon accumulating money to expand the size and reputation of the institution, campus administrators were forever forcing the methods of the marketplace on a reluctant community of scholars (Bok 4).” Over the past couple of decades,  sources of revenue other than private donations and federal aid have become prominent in the higher education world. One of these sources has been the “entrepreneurial behavior” of colleges. “As institutions of higher learning grew larger and more complicated, they needed trustees who could help them raise money and develop better methods of administration… Business executives and corporate lawyers simply seemed better suited to the changing needs of the university (Bok 7).” Investments have only been one of the newer additions to colleges’ revenues. One of the biggest shifts in higher education over the last 20 years has been the increase in research and patenting for profit. According to Bok, “By the year 2000, universities had increased the volume of their patenting more than 10-fold and were earning more than $1 billion per year in royalties and license fees. Some twelve thousand academic scientists were participating in more than one thousand collaborative arrangements with local companies (Bok 12).” This increasing obsession with research has created some consequences, as many professors at large research universities focus more on their research than what they’re at college to do: teach. The main concern is that “commercially oriented activities will come to overshadow other intellectual values and that university programs will be judged primarily by the money they bring in and not by their intrinsic intellectual quality (Bok 16).”

Another type of higher education has been thriving for the past 10-15 years and continues to become more popular—online education. Most online universities are for-profit, and thus their top priority is to make as much money as possible. Consequently, this means treating their students as “customers,” as shown in the PBS documentary, “College Inc.” The documentary also shows how online universities use misleading marketing tactics to lure in students (and cash). There are countless horror stories of students who are told they will be guaranteed a well-paying job to pay for loans after they graduate but fail to obtain those jobs. Online universities are making profit by attracting students who can’t necessarily afford a traditional, on-campus education; however, they (the universities) become inherently hypocritical when they cause their students to fall into further debt. Overall, profit motives have negatively influence higher education.

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