Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered

Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered

Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered

Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered


At one time, universities educated new generations and were a source of social change. Today colleges and universities are less places of public purpose, than agencies of personal advantage. Remaking the American University provides a penetrating analysis of the ways market forces have shaped and distorted the behaviors, purposes, and ultimately the missions of universities and colleges over the past half-century.

The authors describe how a competitive preoccupation with rankings and markets published by the media spawned an admissions arms race that drains institutional resources and energies. Equally revealing are the depictions of the ways faculty distance themselves from their universities with the resulting increase in the number of administrators, which contributes substantially to institutional costs. Other chapters focus on the impact of intercollegiate athletics on educational mission, even among selective institutions; on the unforeseen result of higher education's "outsourcing" a substantial share of the scholarly publication function to for-profit interests; and on the potentially dire consequences of today's zealous investments in e-learning.

A central question extends through this series of explorations: Can universities and colleges today still choose to be places of public purpose? In the answers they provide, both sobering and enlightening, the authors underscore a consistent and powerful lesson-academic institutions cannot ignore the workings of the markets. The challenge ahead is to learn how to better use those markets to achieve public purposes.


For more than two decades we have been writing about the transformation of the American university—in books, monographs, and a host of essays, many of which first appeared in Change magazine, but mostly in the pages of Policy Perspectives. By the late 1980s Policy Perspectives had become higher education’s principal catalog of changing circumstances—the rise of markets, the corresponding diminution of public purpose, the necessary but largely unsuccessful battle to make American universities as diverse and accessible as the communities they serve.

Each essay of Policy Perspectives was itself the product of an extended discussion among a roundtable of higher education’s movers and shakers, men and women whom we often described as “pooh-bahs in waiting.” Some were college and university presidents; others were scholars across a broad range of disciplines; still others were public policy wonks, including on occasion former governors and legislators. From time to time we also attracted members of the working press whose siftings through higher education’s laundry had made them unique witnesses to the transformations Policy Perspectives was mapping.

No matter who joined us for a particular roundtable, we reminded them and ourselves that we would not become Cassandras. We intended to speak in terms that both those within and outside the academy would . . .

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