Women's Voices of Resistance: An Analysis of Process and Content in National Higher Education Policy

Article excerpt

Introduction

Talbot (1998) describes the professional importance of public speaking and states that "Women still do not have equal access to privileged professional discourses or to dominant speaker positions within them ... As a consequence, they still struggle to make themselves heard and to have their interests served" (222). I argue that "hearing" all perspectives provides education leaders with vital options needed policy change in order to address current educational inequities; the absence of particular perspectives or voices reduces options and alternative frameworks with which to consider needed educational change.

More broadly, the relationships between higher education and society are changing in the twenty-first century. Changes are taking place in terms of who pays for college, who gains access to college, and the universities' role in the global marketplace. Specifically in the United States, there have been decreases in public support for higher education (KRC Consulting 2002; Porter 2002) and in state funding for public colleges and universities (Brandl and Holdsworth 2003; Cage 1991; Hansen 2004), at a time when state and federal policies have linked higher education to the market in order to create jobs and increase economic viability (Jafee 2000; Slaughter and Rhoades 1996).

Lee and Clery (2004) point out that "recent state budget cutbacks, along with the declining share of state funding devoted to higher education, suggest that state colleges and universities have reason to be concerned about the reliability of government support" (34). It has also been projected that higher education state budget allocations will continue to decrease throughout the next decade (Jones 2002). These changes put pressure on college and university leaders for economic survival and on state legislators to create policies that increase the number of high school graduates, improve college access and promote graduation from college in order to increase states' "education capital" and economic development. In conjunction with these pressures, educational equity issues have been devalued in policy discourse in order to focus on economic worth and rationalize public funding for higher education (St. John in press; St. John and Hu 2006).

In addition to this financial retrenchment and political directive, disparities regarding who has access to college remain. For example, Carnevale and Fry (2001) found that in 1997, nearly 80 percent of high school graduates from high-income families went on directly to higher education, while only 50 percent of high school graduates from low-income families went on to higher education. In the same year they found that 46 percent of college-age white high school graduates were enrolled in college, whereas only 39 percent of African American and 36 percent of Latina/o high school graduates were enrolled in college. However, these statistics speak nothing of the high school graduation rates for students of the same populations, where, in 2000, 77 percent of African Americans ages 18 to 24 completed high school and only 59.6 percent of Latina/os completed high school (American Council on Education [ACE] 2002). In light of these statistics, approximately 39% of 77% of all 18-24 year old African Americans and 36% of 59.6% of all 18-24 year old Latina/os were enrolled in postsecondary education (1); a much smaller proportion than any one statistic reveals alone.

US statistics reported by the Pathways to College Network (2004) are even more compelling. They state that by their late 20's more than one-third of whites have at least a bachelors degree but only eighteen percent of African Americans and ten percent of Latina/os have attained degrees. These statistics will change dramatically over the next 15 years when one to two million additional young adults will be seeking access to higher education and a large proportion of the potential students in this group will be from low-income families and be students of color (Carneval and Fry 2001), albeit access to which institutions of postsecondary education is not always fully addressed and may continue to perpetuate current inequities (Brint and Karabel 1989; Hurtado and Wathington 2001). …