Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education

Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education

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By James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2011
World Rights
256 Pages
ISBN 9781442611214
Published Jan 2011
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Published Jan 2011
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What happens to the liberal arts and science education when universities attempt to sell it as a form of job training? In Lowering Higher Education, a follow-up to their provocative 2007 book Ivory Tower Blues, James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar explore the subverted 'idea of the university' and the forces that have set adrift the mission of these institutions. Côté and Allahar connect the corporatization of universities to a range of contentious issues within higher education, from lowered standards and inflated grades to the overall decline of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences instruction.

Lowering Higher Education points to a fundamental disconnect between policymakers, who may rarely set foot in contemporary classrooms, and the teachers who must implement their educational policies—which the authors argue are poorly informed—on a daily basis. Côté and Allahar expose stakeholder misconceptions surrounding the current culture of academic disengagement and supposed power of new technologies to motivate students. While outlining what makes the status quo dysfunctional, Lowering Higher Education also offers recommendations that have the potential to reinvigorate liberal education.

James E. Côté is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario.

Anton L. Allahar is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario.


PART I: The Rise of Pseudo-Vocationalism

  1. A History of a Mission Adrift: The Idea of a University Subverted
    • The University in Historical Perspective: The First Millennium
    • The Drift Associated with Massification
    • The Drift toward Vocationalism
    • The Drift toward Corporatization
    • The Drift Associated with Social Engineering
    • The Spoils of the Culture Wars
    • Re-engaging the University
    • Conclusion: Into the Second Millennium of the University
  2. Stakeholder Relations: The Educational Forum
    • Conflict and Complicity: Case Studies
    • Conflicts in the Arena
    • Complicity in the Grandstands: The Scourge of Human
    • Conclusion: Whither Free Enquiry?

PART II: Issues Associated with the Drift to Pseudo-Vocationalism

  1. Standards: Schools without Scholarship?
    • The Student Side of the Disengagement Compact
    • The Teacher / Learning Environment Side of the Disengagement Compact
    • The Two-Tiered System: The Spread of the BA-lite in the Credentialist Era
    • Conclusion: Preserving Scholarship
  2. Universities: Crisis, What Crisis?
    • Defining the University's Crisis
    • Shooting the Messenger
    • Conclusion: 'Captain, we are off course!' 'Nonsense, you are imagining things.'
  3. Students: Is Disengagement Inevitable?
    • Get Used to It! It Is Unrealistic to Expect More
    • Students Have Busy Lives
    • It's Always Been Like This: Historical Considerations
    • There Are No Disengagement Problems
    • Students Are Smarter Now and Just Bored
    • Professor Are Bad Teachers: It's Their Fault
    • Variation in Disengagement: New Empirical Evidence
    • Conclusion: Enough Excuses
  4. Technologies: Will They Save the Day?
    • Claims Regarding New Technologies
    • The Evidence
    • Conclusions: Mixed Support and Moral Entrepreneurs

PART III: The Way Forward into the New Millennium

  1. Recommendations and Conclusions: Our Stewardship of the System
    • What to Do
    • What Not to Do: Managing the Line between Mass and Élite Universities
    • Conclusion


Lowering Higher Education will be widely read and discussed thanks to its insightful, controversial analysis of the major issues facing higher education today. James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar put forth excellent arguments on why the liberal arts education is being lost in the university environment, and what implications this will have in the long run for students, professors, and society. By detailing positive examples from around the world and suggestions for improvement, Côté and Allahar have made a serious advance with Lowering Higher Education.

Gerald Adams, Department of Family Relations, University of Guelph

'In Lowering Higher Education, Professors Côté and Allahar continue their bold critique of the Canadian university system. The sequel to Ivory Tower Blues provides a wide range of new evidence to support the authors' contention that corporatization, credentialism, and dubious edu-technologies are undermining liberal education at the post-secondary level. Public school educators as well as parents will be particularly interested in the book's discussion of how similar trends are affecting Canada's secondary schools, and how teachers are challenging the dysfunctional policies of out-of-touch administrators.'

Jon Cowans, secondary school teacher and education writer

'From the misappropriation of the baccalaureate degree to confer status on vocational training programs to the collapse of educational standards driven by misguided government policies, Côté and Allahar systematically explode the self-serving myths propagated by professors, university presidents, and politicians in their increasingly desperate attempts to conserve a post-secondary education system that is failing both our students and the public interest.'

David J. Helfand, Columbia University and Quest University Canada

We academics love to expose problems in other institutions, but are more reluctant to do so in our own backyard. Lowering Higher Education offers an unflinching and detailed analysis of grade inflation and student disengagement in Canadian universities. Responding to critics of Ivory Tower Blues, Côté and Allahar elaborate their ideas with new takes on educational technologies, vocational programs, student engagement, and prescriptions for change. Today's universities are not suffering from mere growing pains, they fear, but are drifting from their central mission. This sequel reaffirms liberal ideals in an era of change, and promises to spark a new round of debate on the future of the university.

Scott Davies, Ontario Research Chair in Educational Achievement and At-Risk Students, McMaster University