The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education
By William W. Keep
To be sure, higher education faces unprecedented challenges: growing competition for new populations of students at home and abroad; the opportunities, costs, and uncertainties of new technology; declining state support for public institutions; rising tuition; increasing student debt. All demand a careful look at budgets. Stagnant or declining incomes and uncertain employment prospects sharpen pressure to demonstrate what a college degree offers.
In response, some critics have called for a more businesslike approach to higher education. Why? Because colleges face the same fundamental challenges of any business: securing steady revenue streams, covering expenses, using resources well, and planning for an uncertain future.
Over recent decades, we have heard about students as customers, learned to “manage” enrollments, shared and decentralized budgets with the goal of increasing accountability, identified per-student costs per major, and generally dissected the “service” of higher education. We have learned that programs in art and music are not cost effective. Engineering and equipment-intensive courses are expensive. Even as students and parents in the United States rail against the lack of low-cost public education, those in other countries that have such systems face unprecedented tuition increases.