SB 5 would transform higher ed into tool of oppression

Cory Heidelberg at the Madville Times alerts us to the attack on higher education that is Senate Bill 5, introduced by Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth):

Section 2. The Legislature hereby finds, and declares to be the public policy of this state, that the purpose of public postsecondary education is to provide the following:

  1. A workforce that meets the current and prospective needs of the state’s economy;
  2. Affordable postsecondary educational opportunities for all state citizens;
  3. Access to postsecondary education programs that serve to increase the educational attainment of the state’s citizenry and thereby enable citizens to provide leadership in all sectors of life in the state; and
  4. A foundation upon which the state can grow the development and innovation capacities of the state’s economy.

Section 3. The Legislature hereby recognizes that the current goals for public postsecondary education systems and institutions are as follows:

  1. To increase the number of graduates for the state’s workforce; and
  2. To increase the growth capacity of the state’s economy by increasing the innovation and development capacity of the state and by increasing the skills of the state’s current workforce.

Cory goes on to detail what the bill would do:

The bill creates a Council on Higher EducAtion Policy Goals, Performance, and Accountability (CHEAP-GPA?) to make sure our public campuses pursue the enumerated purposes and goals. The state will promote its narrow-minded vision of the purpose of higher education by offering the campuses performance funding. The amount of performance funding our public universities receive will hinge on two simple metrics: the number of science, technology, engineering, and math graduates; and the growth of spending on research.

This is only logical. The more higher education adopts a business-centered model, the more likely we are to see its priorities determined by the marketplace, rather than the advancement of human knowledge and culture. It serves those in power all too well when we turn universities into mere vocational schools, teaching students how to slot into a world determined for them by the their employers, instead of teaching them how to think and to create a world for themselves.

Paulo Freire

Revolutionary educator Paulo Freire, who with his critique of the “banking concept of education” would have found SB 5 eminently unsurprising.

At the same time, I do not believe that four-year universities are for everyone. I found it incredibly frustrating that USD when I went there seemed bent on lowering the common denominator and attracting more and more students (read: more and more money) rather than improving the quality of education for those who were actually interested in a liberal arts education. I’m not trying to be elitist. I don’t think anybody is somehow a worse person for not getting a university degree – society needs plumbers and electricians, and we shouldn’t be socially pressuring folks who aren’t really interested in a university education to sink thousands of dollars into an education that will not serve them well. We would do better to expand our system of vocational schools and community colleges, not unlike the three-tiered German system.

We certainly would not do well to gut the liberal arts in South Dakota.  In a state with one of the highest percentages of students graduating college with debt (76 percent of all graduates, with an average debt load of around $24,000), turning a bachelor’s degree into the new high school diploma, while at the same time lowering the quality of higher education, is a bad idea. Especially since, if Sen. Russell gets his way, it looks to involve training people to become cogs in the corporate machine rather than independent thinkers.

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About sdpeacejustice

The SD Peace & Justice Center connects a grassroots network of South Dakotans working for social justice and against violence and oppression.
This entry was posted in Education, News, SD Legislature 2013 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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