I had always imagined that higher education was a world where the rules and regulations of mainstream society were checked at the door. I believed that universities and colleges provided a space for young minds to question the established order of the previous generation.
Here in these institutions, the American ideals that anybody could be somebody regardless of race or creed would be preached, and an enlightened understanding of the world would be discussed and encouraged in the next generation.
Maybe it was another semester of dishing out hundreds of dollars for textbooks, or maybe it was the seemingly dramatic increase in uniformed military personnel on campus that made me sit back and evaluate the modern university experience. Instead of finding a place where ideas were both challenged and generated, it seems that the new American university has become a factory farm producing the most dangerous generation of consumers yet.
The most obvious way a university can make money is through tuition, but that cost is the easiest to concede as being normal and acceptable, as it helps learning when professors can afford to eat.
Textbooks have always been the most blatant form of corporate fleecing to which students have been subjected. With each school year, companies would release new editions of their books so students were not only unable to resell their old books, but new students would have to pay the price for new versions of the books. This not only impacts a student’s budget, it also encourages massive amounts of waste when books are printed and obsolete within a year because of a change in page numbers.
It was still possible to get around that trick, however, by sharing books with fellow classmates to lower the financial burden and the waste. A student could also go to the school’s library to read from one copy of the textbook on reserve. But with ever-expanding online content, students who purchase used books find themselves needing to also buy an online activation code. The cost of the code typically has a price that makes purchasing a used book the more expensive alternative.
There are also countless gadgets students are required to buy in addition to textbooks these days. For one math course, I purchased a new book with its online content code. I registered with the publisher’s Web site to do my homework. I purchased a remote control to participate in math problems during lectures. To use the remote, I had to pay an additional $15 on a third Web site. And if the batteries for the clicker die? They’re sold at the Barnes and Noble bookstore.
Textbooks and tuition are only the tip of the iceberg. Big-time corporations have moved into the university environment to reap the benefits of student populations.
As many students have noticed, if you want to find your favorite soft drink or food product you may be out of luck. Coca-Cola has a contract with the University to be the official drink at USF. Companies have to compete for a chance of serving the massive student population, and that competition most likely comes in the form of contract structures that will allow the University to make the most money. Gone are the days when students would be asked to speak up about equal rights or fair pay for University employees. Those concerns have been replaced whether the students would rather buy food from Moe’s Southwest Grill or Taco Bell. With a Subway in Cooper Hall and a Starbucks in the Library, I feel it is only time until I am registering for an American Literature class sponsored by a student loan company.
Financial rewards are only one part of what universities gain from the student body. Students strapped for cash because of buying textbooks only need to answer the calls for research subjects that are plastered on the walls of their respective class buildings. I have noticed them in Cooper Hall more than any other building. Do they just expect students in the College of Arts and Sciences to be depressed smokers who can’t sleep? Poor students can provide the University’s research grant machine with a vast array of human test subjects.
In light of higher education’s corporate identity, it isn’t surprising that of the 13 members of USF’s Board of Trustees, nine have experience as presidents and executives of various businesses and are some of the most prominent businesspeople in the Tampa Bay area. It is, however, a little disturbing that both of the professors who serve on the board are from the School of Medicine, arguably the most lucrative school to the University.
This new university format generates a lot of money. The USF Web site boasts that the University’s budget is $1.8 billion. This isn’t including the money that Coca-Cola or Starbucks or the book publishers are making off of the students. For some perspective, USF’s budget is greater than the gross domestic product of 41 nations, according to the CIA. Modern academia is
becoming indistinguishable from the worst of corporate America. At USF and countless other universities following this model, your education isn’t serious business, it’s big business.
Curtiss Gibson is a senior majoring in English literature.