ERIC Number: EJ943991
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Reference Count: 0
Jacobe, Monica F.
Academe, v97 n5 p19-23 Sep-Oct 2011
Questions about college costs, college value, and even what a college degree means for the earning potential of graduates have become a high-profile component of discourse about higher education in the public sphere, and the voices of parents, politicians, taxpayers, and even students have often been raised against the university itself--against its internal functions and external value. What does not enter this conversation or, apparently, the minds of most of the stakeholders talking about college costs is the fact that the majority of faculty members will also struggle to pay their children's college tuition. Beneath this fact lie two important questions. How is such financial difficulty possible for the intellectual elite in their seemingly luxurious ivory towers? And why don't most parents and students know the answer to that first question? Part of the answer to these questions lies in the rhetoric of the middle-class conception of the value and the cost of a college degree. As a nation, Americans believe that college will help one "make it": transform class standing, open up opportunities otherwise closed off, and generally counter long-standing and inherited economic and social realities. This narrative seems to lie at the root of American identity, rising from the earliest national rhetoric that had hardscrabble, hard-living settlers of a new nation recast themselves as first political revolutionaries and then statesmen in charge of a new nation. From its earliest form, then, the United States has been a place where individual raw talent and drive could change the world. More recently, this idea has smart people going to college to get an undergraduate degree, and sometimes on to graduate school, perhaps eventually joining the professoriate and helping train the middle class. All of this, inevitably, perpetuates a singular view of the value of higher education. The rhetoric of middle-class opportunity, still standing in the face of the current economic crisis, also surely informs the resentment many parents feel about not being able to afford the college education they believe their children need, even are entitled to have. But these parents often don't blame the economy or lawmakers or fate; they blame the college or university and everyone they see as agents of its bureaucracy--from top administrators down to the lowliest adjunct. This example points toward the problem created by a rhetoric no longer borne out by reality and the resulting "PR problem" colleges and universities face: parents view institutions of higher education as, at best, impediments to and, at worst, enemies of their children's future--and the future of a deeply entrenched American ideal.
Descriptors: Higher Education, Middle Class, Paying for College, Tuition, Costs, College Faculty, Stakeholders, Educational Attitudes, College Students, College Graduates, Psychological Patterns
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A