The education system we have come to know, appreciate, and strive within is changing–and fast. We are unknowingly living in an exploitative educational environment, which is slowly draining our opportunities for creative and introspective thought. We are being primed as political and global consumers, and those who do not economically fit within this scheme of privatization are being phased out.
As the system of higher education developed, it became a space to expand one’s own knowledge, to foster creativity, to ask questions, and to probe society. However, the growing concept of globalization and the expanding global political economy are privatizing the academy, changing its students from democratic and informed citizens to consumers in a profit-driven matrix.
We have begun to put a price on the intelligence of future generations, and even more so on fields of education that have the potential to garner a large margin of profit. Thus, we are seeing an emphasis on studies similar to economics, government, business etc, and simultaneous cuts in the humanities. This meaning that in the near future, we will see a decrease in the number and importance of such courses. Ideologies geared toward challenging the “man,” for their role the market will become “ornamental”. We will be phased out, our position within the academic matrix stolen by a monster called privatization.
Not only are the humanities at risk of extinction, but privatization also threatens the opportunity for all to be educated. Today, a democratic and informed citizen is intrinsically connected with systems of higher education, but the increasing connection between the university and solely profit-driven goals is rapidly narrowing the margin of citizens eligible for higher education. Wealth determines one’s ability to not only be educated, but to have a say on the ebb and flow of educational change.
One shocking example of this change is the newly approved St. Lawrence University Strategic Action Plan. Previous to our current situation, the SLU I knew strove for diversity, academic excellence, and the production of a well-rounded individual. We aimed to raise our inclusion of minority and international students, and prided ourselves on a large emphasis on financial aid. We sought students who were academically strong enough for the rigor of the coursework, but not necessarily able to finance their education. However, these circumstances are changing–a fact unknown to the majority of the student body.
Not only will the size of the student body increase, but also the admissions/financial aid processes have been altered. International students at this university receive a large amount of financial aid awards, and with the changes lined up by the Strategic Action Plan, any international student wanting to attend SLU will only be allowed to walk these paths if they can afford to pay full tuition. Financial aid for American students is under attack as well. Although President Fox discusses the continued “access to students with higher need,” he goes on to say that the university needs to be aware that “affording the opportunity is central to our future” (Fox).
How are we supposed to uphold the standards of our current student body if we are adopting this motto based on affording opportunity? What do these new practices mean for the hundreds of students on full scholarship, or the students who are part of the HEOP program? If we are now founding our admissions practices on wealth and affability, how can we say that we are maintaining the true nature of St. Lawrence? These practices no longer look to expand the intellect to all those capable of SLU, but rather only to those students who have the fiscal means to pay their way through.
Enlightened by a confidential source, which provided a chart displaying admissions statistics comparing the class of 2014 to 2015, we see evidence of this shift in policy. Students admitted in the fall of 2010 that did not need financial aid or FAFSA was 32.0 %. Just one year later, that number now stands at 38.2% . Additionally, the percentage of students admitted with high financial need in 2010 stood at 30.2%, while the number for the current freshman class sits at 24.1%. While the number of students not needing need was raised by 6% in one year, the number of students needing financial assistance was lowered by 6%. Interestingly enough, the admissions/financial aid polices written into the Strategic Action Plan seemed to be in place before its approval. Why create a façade of process when those in control don’t need permission to make changes?
In correlation with the change in admissions policies, we must also examine the new business major. We are a firm liberal arts institution. Although the economics department is extremely popular, the addition of a business major only highlights this change in education. Having a business major is seen to further prepare the students enrolled for this new business world. Why did the administration not add a new major in the humanities, or graduate the gender and sexualities department from a minor to a major? Why don’t we expand the language program or the art department? The answer lies in priority. Not only have business, economics, and other “preparatory” majors been elevated on a pedestal of importance, the addition of another major in this department is only further evidence of the eventual phasing out of the humanities.
Lastly, we must ask ourselves, what is the role of the student in these changes? President Fox continuously stresses the students’ role in the creation of the Strategic Action Plan. However, when discussing these changes with my peers, most were unaware of the changes being made, and more importantly, they were outraged by the situation. I am well aware that opportunities were given to ask questions concerning these changes and to gain insight into the plan, but when were our voices actually heard? When was the student body given an opportunity to challenge these decisions that were made? Do our voices actually matter, or is this university that I have loved for the past four years just another education system lost in this global capitalist makeover?
President Fox opens his Strategic Action Plan with the following quotation: “St. Lawrence University inspires and prepares students to be reflective thinkers and lifelong learners, to find a compass for their lives and careers, and to make a difference in whatever paths they choose in life. We cultivate a lifelong experience of thoughtfulness. This is the St. Lawrence promise” (William L. Fox, September 12, 2011). I have a hard time believing that with this shift in policy, the SLU we know and love today will be the same five years down the road. We will lose the essence of our being; we will lose the university we are today. Who is to say that we haven’t lost it already?