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Public Policy’s David Kirp on marketing higher education

04 February 2004

 






David Kirp is just the sort of author Berkeley Writers at Work coordinator Steve Tollefson likes to feature: He has written a prodigious amount — 15 books and more than 100 articles — and undoubtedly will have a lot to say about the writing process during his March 30 interview. This excerpt is from the introduction to Kirp’s latest book, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education.

"The two campuses are a half hour’s drive and a psychological light year removed from one another. Between them, they mark the outer boundaries of the new higher learning in America.

One is a modern rendering of the ivied college, a place of learning set apart from the humdrum world. The verdant landscape, camouflaged from neighboring office parks, is a real park that’s dotted with ponds and meandering trails, a setting that invites conversation among students and teachers. The buildings are unobtrusively contemporary, and the classrooms, many of them seminar-sized, are wired for the electronic age. This is a highly selective school, which draws its students and its faculty from around the globe. Students report that they are pleased with their education as well as with the opportunity to make the kinds of contacts that make careers.

The other campus is a faux-Gothic refuge from a dicey urban neighborhood, Oxbridge amid the ghetto. But until recently the telltale signs of neglect were everywhere evident, from the physics labs, state-of-the-art circa 1950, to the swimming pool used to train competitors for the Olympics — the 1908 Olympics, that is. Throughout its history, the institution has regularly been in financial trouble. Twice in earlier years it came close to moving away; and its annual deficit, projected to run ten million dollars, was eating away at its relatively modest endowment. While its alumni have always been fiercely loyal, many were saying that the place was so brutal that they wouldn’t send their own children there. Attracting new students had become harder and harder — more than 60 percent of those who applied were admitted to the Class of 2000, and fewer than a third of those who were accepted actually enrolled.

The second of these schools is the University of Chicago. The first is Hamburger University, McDonalds’ corporate training headquarters.

To speak of McDonalds and the University of Chicago in the same breath is blasphemy, at least in Hyde Park. But both the rise to prominence of schools like Hamburger U. — not your father’s higher education, certainly, but an accredited institution nonetheless — as well as the hard choices that confront a quintessential institution of higher learning like Chicago are evidence of a much larger phenomenon. For better or worse, American higher education is being transformed by both the power and the ethic of the marketplace. It is this story that succeeding chapters recount: the strategies devised to navigate this complex market terrain, as well as the values to academic life that those strategies place at risk."

Copyright © 2003, Harvard University Press