Past and Present
Between Equity and Opportunity: The Decline of the Great Equalizer
If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth and scarcely rises at all at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of deepening and solidifying them1.
For many decades US higher education has been considered to be a “great equalizer”, removing barriers among classes and promoting social and economic advancement. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” led to the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 and brought hope for affordable higher education open to everybody, especially to previously underprivileged groups. The prevalent optimism of the 1970s was challenged, however, with the advance of a new approach to higher education policy, based on Ronald Reagan’s idea of reduced government that promoted the New Public Management philosophy, marked by marketization, growing competition and accountability of higher education institutions. The neoliberal approach introduced in the 1980s posed the question of ever growing importance: should higher education be a means of advancing social equality? Or rather: should it only provide opportunities for those already struggling for social advancement?2
As the title of the book edited by Paul E. Paterson suggests: education lays foundations for the future economic and political stability of the United States3. The quest for accessible higher education is especially important with the advent of the knowledge-based economy. Educational exclusion would strengthen social...
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