The Crisis in Higher Education
Higher education is in crisis. This is true of colleges and universities globally, but nowhere is the crisis more pronounced than the United States. Only one-half of those entering college in the U.S. actually graduate. The graduates carry an average debt of $29,000, while the debt increases sharply for those going on to professional and graduate schools. Holders of bachelor degrees increasingly postpone buying a home or starting a family, while many are forced to take jobs unsuited to their education and talents because of the need to make debt payments immediately following graduation. The fastest growing sectors of the economy – such as retail, fast-food, and home health care – offer low-wage jobs that do not require college diplomas, and millions of college graduates are in jobs requiring only a high school degree. While there is a substantial “college premium” – an increase in income – for most graduates, the premium is the result of a dramatic decline in the paychecks of those without bachelors degrees, rather than an increase in the salaries of degree-holders. This abysmal situation is compounded by a continuing racial division. According to the National Center for Education statistics, 41% of White Americans between the ages of 25 to 29 have college degrees, while only 22% of Blacks and 15% of Hispanics are degree holders. An African American male with a bachelors degree makes 82% of the income of his White male counterpart.
The economic problems students face are matched by those of higher ed faculty. Seventy percent of college and university professors are “adjuncts” with part-time or temporary full-time appointments. They generally work for very low pay, zero benefits, and without enjoying the traditional rights of faculty governance. This degradation in the economic and working conditions of students and faculty is occurring at a time when the research facilities of universities are sold to the highest corporate bidders, administrators adopt hierarchical methods of corporate assessment and management, and administrative salaries balloon. One private university president makes more than 4.6 million dollars per year and another recently received a retirement parachute of 8.5 million dollars. As private college salaries soar for upper-level administrators, public colleges and universities have fallen into deep financial trouble, as federal and state governments slash appropriations. The result is increasing tuition and fees, the development of what are euphemistically called “public-corporate partnerships,” and expansion of the ranks of the adjunct faculty. In short, “public” institutions are increasingly public in name only.
Many people are now aware of the profound crisis in higher education, but few have any idea what to do about it. The most visionary proposals of political leaders and media involve modest debt relief, the abolition of tuition at community colleges (which are increasingly no more than job-training programs), and unionization of the adjunct faculty. While such ameliorative measures are welcome, far more fundamental changes are necessary if higher education is to full its promise to develop the talents and sensibilities of students without the accumulation of unsustainable debt, the unbridled exploitation of teachers and researchers, or the sale of educational resources to private capital.
Transforming the Academy
The purpose of the Independent Teachers, Artists, and Scholars Cooperative (I-Tasc) is to develop alternatives to the current system of higher education. It is guided by six goals:
1) To provide higher education to students at an affordable cost.
2) To extend the benefits of higher education to people now excluded from them.
3) To keep decision-making power in the hands of faculty and students.
4) To experiment with new technologies and teaching methods in order to reduce the cost of higher education while extending its reach domestically and internationally.
5) To combine studies in theory and history with practical application and informed critique.
6) To develop students and faculty able to play a part in the emergence of a more creative, knowledgeable, inclusive, and self-governed world.
We are not naïve about how much work it will take to accomplish these ends, or about the limitations of our own resources. But we are determined to take the first steps in the direction of realizing the six goals, and to work cooperatively with similarly determined people and projects around the world. We invite you to join us – as students, faculty, advisors, and supporters – on this journey to transform the academy.