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Privatization of America’s Public Institutions

The Story of the American Sellout

Lawrence Baines

Privatization of America’s Public Institutions describes the transformation of the military, K–12 public schools, public universities and colleges, and prisons into enterprises focused on generating profits for a select few. In many cases, privatization has limited accessibility, promoted segregation, fueled declining standards, increased costs, and reduced quality.

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Chapter 4. Privatizing Public Higher Education: Selling Off the Alma Mater


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Selling Off the Alma Mater

William and Mary University is a public university established by William of Orange and his wife Mary II in 1693. Former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler all attended William and Mary. The university “recognizes its special responsibility to the citizens of Virginia through public and community service to the Commonwealth as well as to national and international communities.”1 The university became state supported in 1906.

In the 1970s, tuition, room, and board at William and Mary cost about $1500.2 Today the price of attending William and Mary is around $40,000 (tuition, room, and board) per year, about the same sum as a year’s wages for a full-time worker, aged 24–35.3 Even at the cost of a year’s salary, William and Mary claims to offer “an exceptional value.”4

In many ways, the transformation of William and Mary from private university to an affordable public institution and then to an elite, expensive, selective “public ivy” echoes the broader trends in higher education over the past 50 years. Students want to go to college, but tuition is more expensive and financial support for higher education is waning. Public institutions must continually scramble to stay solvent. ← 121 | 122 →

As a result, public universities have raised tuition, privatized aspects of operation, and instigated an endless quest for funding from non-governmental...

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