New York: Higher Education
Whatever the measure, it is clear that the higher educational enterprise is as troubled as the primary and secondary educational systems. Alumni are restive; students, in large numbers, are restless; economic problems abound; the internal administration of many of even the finest, most reputable universities is typically a tangle of functions and a maze of "bureau-pathologies"; costs have skyrocketed; university faculties complain about the shrunken demand for their labor even as they thrash about for the best means for obtaining salary increases; the debates in Congressional committees concerned with the allocation of federal funds for education are mired in arguments that bypass many of the essential issues and gainsay many of the basic problems.
These sad circumstances are attributed to many different causes, depending upon the perspective of the diagnostician, but few deny that they are rooted in confusions about the roles of higher education. These confusions, in turn, are by-products of the fact that in higher education we have sought so many means to so many ends, that a day of reckoning, if not a collapse, is inevitable.
Consider that hardly a single public policy undertaking of any significance has been mounted in the post-World War II era that did not have consequential impacts upon the educational apparatus, in general, and higher education in particular.
Whether the policy draftsman and his constituency were concerned about fighting domestic poverty, foreign communism, cancer, or crime, the academy has been an essential component in the order of battle. Whether for the nuclear race, the arms race, or the race to the moon, the runners and their coaches, it has been made clear, must be better educated. If health care is of grossly uneven quality and maldistributed, we focus upon medical education rather than upon the condition of management in the health services. If black youths find mostly dead-end jobs awaiting them in the labor market, we look askance at their educational achievements; meanwhile, we accept the higher incomes of white college graduates in the fashion of the chanticleer, as proof of the argument that, but for their educational deficiencies, blacks would be better off!
Were a foreign visitor to replicate the famous nineteenthcentury study of Democracy in America, he would quickly remark that Americans have elevated education to a place equivalent to that reserved by de Tocqueville for committees, in that celebrated observer's assessment of American problem-solving techniques!
Now we shall perhaps always have to accept what may be termed fallout effects in education, and even to make the best of the fact that the society cannot guarantee that it will respect the parietal rules of the academy. The academy can seek to influence the effects of eternal demands through watchdog committees that review these demands in accordance with a set of policy guidelines, and thereby seek to protect important values. Thus, in the author's university, there is a "University Senate Committee on Externally Funded Research" that measures proposals influencing the utilization of its human and physical resources against an evolving set of standards. While such measures are typically of recent vintage, they do offer some limited promise of helping to shore up the useful walls that were all but dissolved during the long years when every national threat and opportunity was uncritically redefined into nuclear reactors, Russian studies centers, urban institutes, and myriad other programmatic attachments and appendages to the American university.
Even more serious than the educational fallout of political and related undertakings, however, are the direct impingements on the educational apparatus of public manpower and associated policies that seek, intentionally, to employ the education enterprise as a central means to specific ends. Any long-term plan regarding higher education in metropolitan centers must include assessment of the ways in which these impingements intensify and aggravate the fallout effects of the policies that have come to shape higher education. We may well argue that, in the absence of a coherent and well-reasoned overall policy regarding the role of higher education, we have encumbered ourselves with an apparatus that, like Boswell's dog, works in spite of itself.
It must be a matter of immediate and grave concern to educational planners and administrators at the state and local levels-particularly the big-city level--that we come to grips with questions regarding the appropriate role of higher education, lest we forsake what is a diminishing opportunity to straighten out, and thereby salvage, what is deteriorating through passivity, uncritical assessment, and well-intentioned but disastrously shortsighted patterns of utilization. New York State and New York City, regrettably, afford us with remarkable illustrations of many of the issues that need to be joined in an innovative assessment of future prospects regarding education at all levels.
First, and leaving aside for a moment the fallout effects, we can note that education was singled out to serve two national ends that were orthogonal, if not to an important degree incompatible. Thus we have long recognized--and in recent years could document--that education earns and produces significant economic returns to both individual beneficiaries and the nation.
After World War II, it was dearly perceived that a growing economy and a changing occupational structure require more citizens with the breadth of learning and disciplined intellects which are reasonably identified with a college education. An expanding public sector and the expansion in the ranks of the professions and management demonstrably require larger numbers of "better educated" manpower. Specific programs took sight of this need, and scholarships and grants soon joined program funds in a steadily increasing flow, the result of which was a building boom on existing campuses and a boom in college "starts," even as the fallout effect manifested itself in the proliferation of special programs --from space medicine to oceanography.
At the same time that education experienced its economic takeoff stage, to borrow a phrase, it was singled out as the means for the solution of social problems as well. After all, went the argument, if education is necessary for national economic growth and for individual economic well-being, and if inequality and poverty are special kinds of problems which must be treated in economic terms, then we might expect education to be an instrument of social as well as economic policy. While manpower planners sought to identify the specific needs for scientists, engineers, teachers, and a host of other trained personnel categories, government poverty warriors and educationalists sought to facilitate educational opportunities for ever larger numbers of people on the grounds that education was the most direct avenue to higher income, and thereby to "upward mobility." The education enterprise thus expanded to serve the economy, in the narrow sense, by helping to qualify people needed in the economy and, in the broader sense, to serve the society as the mechanism by which its growing commitment to equality could be fulfilled. Equality was regarded as a function of opportunity for mobility, and was defined in terms of labor supply.
In more recent years the very real possibility that the actual requirements for jobs were beginning to stabilize was noted by a few, but only a few, observers. A series of studies by economists who explored the personal and social returns on investments in higher education began to appear during the sixities, however, which concluded that the requirements for many of the nation's occupational classifications were legitimately rising! These economic studies, which assumed that the high positive correlation between education and income could be explained by the productivity of better-educated citizens, attributed a high rate of return on diplomas and degrees, and were based upon demographic data available at that time.
The methods utilized in these studies of "human capital" were indirect, as the previous paragraph suggests. The researchers looked not at jobs in relation to education, but at the different incomes of differentially educated groups. Incomes were thus taken as a measure of the demands for educated manpower, the rationality of employers was taken as a "given," and the assumption was that the market for such manpower would grow or at least remain firm in what was regarded as a competitive and growing economy. The effect of these studies, by some of the nation's most imaginative economists, was to underscore the economic importance of education.
At the same time, the education and income data were regarded by civil rights advocates as proof of the wisdom of expanding educational opportunities in order that more citizens might shift from the losing to the winning columns in the statistics on income distribution. The rest is by now an old story: "Universal higher education" and "open enrollment" were the new watchwords, and both educational plant and staff obviously needed to be geared up, in order that the colleges and universities could deliver the credentials that would simultaneously spell growth, opportunity, and equality.
The educational apparatus was thus chosen, as a major instrument of policy, to solve economic and social problems, knee-deep as it was in institutes, centers for research on almost everything, and special "crash programs" that kept its computers whirring with data on an endless list of matters from underground atom tests to outer-space travel, from personal to social disorders, and from the performance of rats in mazes to the performance of youngsters in inner-city schools.
No matter where one turned, higher education was the key ingredient in game plans of all kinds, while the basic statistics on education and earnings appeared on every subway car, every fifth matchbook cover, and in the preamble to literally thousands of bills offered to federal, state, and city legislators. "Dropout" became a dirty word while "stick-to-itiveness," and a host of other virtues, were credited to college graduates.
The City of New York, once the proud owner of City College, long famous as a point of departure for immigrants and first-generation city dwellers bound for significant roles in the community and the nation, now operates a citywide university system. Again, a number of formerly private colleges were expanded and merged with the city's higher educational plants to produce, for many more potentially mobile youths, the opportunities available only on a highly selective basis in other times.
The economy of the city, meantime, in common with that of the state and the nation, has been drifting sideways while, like other cities, it has been victimized by the drift--then massive shift--of middle-income families to the suburbs. And in the suburbs, community colleges have been springing up like crabgrass on middle-class lawns. And all--urban, suburban, and statewide systems--need money; all make their pleas before the state's legislators with the strong convictions that they have socially and politically certified mandates and missions, and that education is the young man's and woman's route to better jobs and higher incomes.
Points of Interest