Martin Center column highlights four perspectives of higher education policy

Jay Schalin of the Martin Center devotes his latest column to explaining different perspectives on higher education policy.

Explaining higher education policy is never easy (even to people who are involved in it). Over the years, while training young writers for the Martin Center, I have come up with a model that has proven useful. One way to produce clarity among the confusion is to apply a model having four basic perspectives rather than just two.

One major problem the model overcomes is the tendency to reflexively think about policy according to the left-right political paradigm. It’s not that higher education is not political—it is among the most politicized institutions in our society, the central battleground of the culture war.

But the standard left-right political model is inadequate or misleading for discussing higher education policy. There are too many non-political dynamics at play; perhaps the most important of these is an unstable economy centered on knowledge that has added a new range of higher education controversies on top of longstanding political ones.

Nor does the liberal model in which there is a corporate takeover of the academy work. Higher education is simply too complex for that explanation.

The first of these perspectives can be deemed “Traditional;” its focus is on educating new generations within the longstanding Western tradition. Students are taught to see themselves as heirs to a civilization that began in the ancient Middle East, was transformed through Judeo-Christian theology and Greek philosophy, and advanced over the centuries to produce the modern world. …

… The second can be termed “Transformative,” in which the focus is on getting students to question the values of their formative associations, such as families, communities, and churches, and adopt new worldviews that echo those prevalent in academia. …

… The other two perspectives are relatively value-neutral and apolitical; they are instead centered on higher education’s economic aspects. One can be called “Vocational,” in which, as the label describes, higher education is seen primarily as a way to train workers at the highest skill levels. …

… The other perspective that emphasizes economics over other concerns can be termed the “Multiversity” (from a speech by University of California president Clark Kerr in 1960). It gives the university an enormous role in American society, perceiving it to be the driver of the economy and the source of a vast array of solutions to all manner of problems. It promotes both research and complex interactions between universities and government, private industry, and communities.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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