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Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education

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Public higher education in the postwar era was a key economic and social driver in American life, making college available to millions of working men and women. Since the 1980s, however, government austerity policies and politics have severely reduced public investment in higher education, exacerbating inequality among poor and working-class students of color, as well as p Public higher education in the postwar era was a key economic and social driver in American life, making college available to millions of working men and women. Since the 1980s, however, government austerity policies and politics have severely reduced public investment in higher education, exacerbating inequality among poor and working-class students of color, as well as part-time faculty. In Austerity Blues, Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier examine these devastating fiscal retrenchments nationally, focusing closely on New York and California, both of which were leaders in the historic expansion of public higher education in the postwar years and now are at the forefront of austerity measures. Fabricant and Brier describe the extraordinary growth of public higher education after 1945, thanks largely to state investment, the alternative intellectual and political traditions that defined the 1960s, and the social and economic forces that produced austerity policies and inequality beginning in the late 1970s and 1980s. A provocative indictment of the negative impact neoliberal policies have visited on the public university, especially the growth of class, racial, and gender inequalities, Austerity Blues also analyzes the many changes currently sweeping public higher education, including the growing use of educational technology, online learning, and privatization, while exploring how these developments hurt students and teachers. In its final section, the book offers examples of oppositional and emancipatory struggles and practices that can help reimagine public higher education in the future. The ways in which factors as diverse as online learning, privatization, and disinvestment cohere into a single powerful force driving deepening inequality is the central theme of the book. Incorporating the differing perspectives of students, faculty members, and administrators, the book reveals how public education has been redefined as a private benefit, often outsourced to for-profit vendors who "sell" education back to indebted undergraduates. Over the past twenty years, tuition and related student debt have climbed precipitously and degree completion rates have dropped. Not only has this new austerity threatened public universities' ability to educate students, Fabricant and Brier argue, but it also threatens to undermine the very meaning and purpose of public higher education in offering poor and working-class students access to a quality education in a democracy. Synthesizing historical sources, social science research, and contemporary reportage, Austerity Blues will be of interest to readers concerned about rising inequality and the decline of public higher education.


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Public higher education in the postwar era was a key economic and social driver in American life, making college available to millions of working men and women. Since the 1980s, however, government austerity policies and politics have severely reduced public investment in higher education, exacerbating inequality among poor and working-class students of color, as well as p Public higher education in the postwar era was a key economic and social driver in American life, making college available to millions of working men and women. Since the 1980s, however, government austerity policies and politics have severely reduced public investment in higher education, exacerbating inequality among poor and working-class students of color, as well as part-time faculty. In Austerity Blues, Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier examine these devastating fiscal retrenchments nationally, focusing closely on New York and California, both of which were leaders in the historic expansion of public higher education in the postwar years and now are at the forefront of austerity measures. Fabricant and Brier describe the extraordinary growth of public higher education after 1945, thanks largely to state investment, the alternative intellectual and political traditions that defined the 1960s, and the social and economic forces that produced austerity policies and inequality beginning in the late 1970s and 1980s. A provocative indictment of the negative impact neoliberal policies have visited on the public university, especially the growth of class, racial, and gender inequalities, Austerity Blues also analyzes the many changes currently sweeping public higher education, including the growing use of educational technology, online learning, and privatization, while exploring how these developments hurt students and teachers. In its final section, the book offers examples of oppositional and emancipatory struggles and practices that can help reimagine public higher education in the future. The ways in which factors as diverse as online learning, privatization, and disinvestment cohere into a single powerful force driving deepening inequality is the central theme of the book. Incorporating the differing perspectives of students, faculty members, and administrators, the book reveals how public education has been redefined as a private benefit, often outsourced to for-profit vendors who "sell" education back to indebted undergraduates. Over the past twenty years, tuition and related student debt have climbed precipitously and degree completion rates have dropped. Not only has this new austerity threatened public universities' ability to educate students, Fabricant and Brier argue, but it also threatens to undermine the very meaning and purpose of public higher education in offering poor and working-class students access to a quality education in a democracy. Synthesizing historical sources, social science research, and contemporary reportage, Austerity Blues will be of interest to readers concerned about rising inequality and the decline of public higher education.

38 review for Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This is a good book. If you’ve been following this for any amount of time, there’s a certain amount of repetition in all these books on higher education, which makes sense since there’s a common factor that has led to the detrimental effects of higher education . Most relevantly, this book updates the narrative by showing how austerity ideology and The Great Recession has further negatively impacted higher education with particular focus on the class war on state education. Coming from a state w This is a good book. If you’ve been following this for any amount of time, there’s a certain amount of repetition in all these books on higher education, which makes sense since there’s a common factor that has led to the detrimental effects of higher education . Most relevantly, this book updates the narrative by showing how austerity ideology and The Great Recession has further negatively impacted higher education with particular focus on the class war on state education. Coming from a state where they have implemented a regressive metrics system that most often penalizes the universities and colleges that primarily serve working-class students of color, this observation hits particularly close. The authors make a good point that insisting on accountability without accompanying state investment in education is duplicitous, if now downright creating a system built to fail so one can argue for the further privatization of education. Perhaps most relevant is the authors’ insistence that we tie higher ed reform to other social struggles over the commons like health care, social security, and the like. A good and needed book for those of us engaged in the struggle.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    Overall, a very good rundown of the current state of higher education: state divestment, austerity, and performance metrics. The authors use very good examples: CUNY and California. As for the solutions: meh. Basically, your run of the mill progressive laundry list: more spending, great union power, more stability for part-time faculty, more faculty control of curriculum. All of these are good, but they need to be situated in the larger political/fiscal context. States face financial nightmares Overall, a very good rundown of the current state of higher education: state divestment, austerity, and performance metrics. The authors use very good examples: CUNY and California. As for the solutions: meh. Basically, your run of the mill progressive laundry list: more spending, great union power, more stability for part-time faculty, more faculty control of curriculum. All of these are good, but they need to be situated in the larger political/fiscal context. States face financial nightmares (largerly of their own making). So, I welcome a millionaire's tax, but it's quite likely that money is going to pensions, healthcare, or paying down debt. There are simply no easy answers for the current state. I appreciate the author's attemot to tie higher education issues to broader issues like healthcare. The one thing I really liked is the emphasis on higher education as a public good. Realistically, none of the proposals matter until we convince the public of the utility of higher education. This is the fight before all else.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    A fantastic framing of the issues! It's a little CUNY-centric, which worked for me. The CUNY/SUNY/UC histories were really great, too. A fantastic framing of the issues! It's a little CUNY-centric, which worked for me. The CUNY/SUNY/UC histories were really great, too.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tori

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  6. 5 out of 5

    Neil Meyer

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Kempner

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brent

  11. 4 out of 5

    Forida Ahmed

  12. 5 out of 5

    CMH

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Leigh

  14. 4 out of 5

    Clare G

  15. 4 out of 5

    Terry

  16. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

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    Nick

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Barba

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steph

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Robbins

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Boone

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nick

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda Nicholas

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robin DeRosa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Drucker

  31. 4 out of 5

    Megan Flaherty

  32. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Feathers

  33. 5 out of 5

    Will

  34. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  35. 4 out of 5

    Maya

  36. 4 out of 5

    Zach

  37. 5 out of 5

    Scott Moore

  38. 4 out of 5

    Nikki Laird

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