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4 Disturbing Ways Big Banks Have Turned Colleges Into Money-Grubbing Institutions

As colleges and universities look to pad their bottom lines, who's losing out? Students and society.

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3. Diluting the Classroom

The next innovative product being marketed to students, and being funded and invested in heavily by colleges and universities as well as by Silicon Valley, are online learning systems. Without a doubt, these new systems will fundamentally change the brick-and-mortar model of higher education: elite institutions have already formed joint ventures such as Coursea, Edx, Udacity, and 2tor to develop online classrooms. Well financed (investment in education technology companies has quadrupled since 2007) and extremely data driven, these programs have now set the bar for other second-tier institutions to catch up.

By embracing online pedagogy, universities will have essentially altered notions of how we learn, what we study and who learns what, while also opening up a running debate about the cost of education and the value of the college degree. And yet, with no real quantifiable data that suggests that online learning is a genuine alternative to real classroom instruction, or that families who are footing the skyrocketing tuition bill actually welcome the idea, students and employers are genuinely worried about the quality of online learning and the future of their education.

Without a doubt, schools don’t have a monopoly on educating students, as online media plays a massive role in engagement with the 21st-century world. However, cheapening the model in hopes for efficiency and revenue, while expecting to enhance student performance seems like folly—a point currently being played out at community colleges across the country.

At Queensborough Community College, a branch of the City University of New York, some faculty are currently in a dogfight with school administrators who want to cut in-class writing courses from four hours a week to three. This tentative policy shift would prioritize cost cutting and curriculum restructuring at the expense of classroom-learning time. Similar to using online learning systems to improve educational outcomes for students, it seems unclear how pushing students away from professor-to-student engagement will help them perform at higher standards.

4. The Student Voice on Mute

With the magnitude of the continued changes taking place at colleges and universities, one would think that college newspapers, many with long histories of being independent voices on campus, would play an even larger role in informing and empowering student issues and activism on campus. But this fundamental presence is also being threatened.

Recently at the University of Georgia, student journalists at The Red and Black walked off the job after the nonprofit publishing company that owns the paper installed non-student staffers who held strong editorial and censorship power over student employees. Although the publishing company and The Red and Black are independent of the university, interference in their reporting inspired students to walk away from a situation where the power structure was clearly encroaching on their individual freedoms.

The right and freedom to vote on college campuses is also becoming increasingly difficult to ensure. Voter ID bills across the country threaten to invalidate the student vote, while also disenfranchising people of color, disabled people, seniors and low-income families.

In Pennsylvania, new state laws threaten to invalidate 85% of student IDs for identification at the polls because they lack expiration stickers. In Tennessee, student identification cards will no longer be accepted at the polls this November. Interestingly, state-issued handgun permits are an acceptable form of identification.

Is it possible we’ve gotten our priorities slightly mixed up?

At What Cost?

College students know that the promise of higher education has been diluted. They see that college costs are soaring, and that tuition costs have risen faster than the rate of inflation. Recent data from the Department of Education estimates that if these tuition increases continue, the average cost of a public college will have more than doubled in 15 years.