Op-ed: What if every college closed?

End of the sector could 'make room for, be the mulch that nourishes, something even better'

Every college going out of business may not be a bad thing at all, Kate Blanchard writes for Inside Higher Ed.

The religious studies associate professor at Alma College penned a tongue-in-cheek piece that argues higher education has always been a system run by "the Man," like profit incentives, corporate values, and administrators.

"We like to believe that once upon a time higher education had a golden age that was due, not simply to the nation being flush with cash... but to high-minded, honorable prevailing philosophies about democracy and justice that have since fallen by the wayside," she says.

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When in fact, according to anti-war activist Stan Goff, "education-for-all" only became an American priority following the Civil War, and only in order to create "manly men, and obedient women and works, who would answer their nation's call in peace and wartime."

Private institutions and land grant universities spread and "began producing a steady supply of human capital so that American could enhance its economic dominance."

"American education has always owed its primary existence to the man and has never really challenged his dominance," Blanchard writes.

While there have been student protests and other calls for reform from the margins, "by and large higher education has never demanded a fundamental rethinking of the American project," Blanchard concludes.

In other words, it perpetuates the status-quo, she says.

Higher education does not ask us to pay reparations to slaves' descendants, return land to the Native Americans, revise state and neighborhood borders, or end the industrial economy.

We debate only the limits of state force and individual choice—not the use of either, she argues.

"A mainly white Western canon prevails that is designed to shape students who will foster some variation of American-style democracy, at home and abroad," she says.

And while she says she likes to think of herself as "counter-cultural in my educational ideals," she is in fact rather supportive of colleges remaining generally the same.

If all postsecondary institutions fail though, other—vastly different—systems may take their place.

"What if our demise will make room for, be the mulch that nourishes, something even better?" she asks. "Perhaps instead of institutions imprisoned by endowments, academic calendars, boards, legislators, tuition discounts, or profit margins, there will be... various kinds of institutions actually run by the people and for the people" (Blanchard, Inside Higher Ed, 8/4).

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