Aspiring Diploma Mills Don’t Stop for Pandemics

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In this chapter, we argue that, driven by the threat of eroding enrollments and guided by perverse college ranking incentives, academic management executives capitalized on pandemic upheavals and uncertainty by adding market-driven academic programs, most commonly masters’ degrees, and pushing for other market-driven changes, such as microcredentialing as tactics to capture new sources of revenue. In doing so, they continued to weaken shared governance and the power of faculty. Additionally, they further distorted the values of the academy through a reemergence of vocationalism that looks similar to their for-profit college counterparts.KeywordsEroding enrollmentsCollege ranking incentivesAcademic management executivesMarket-driven academic programsShared governance

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As the value of a university degree plummets, the popularity of the digital microcredential has soared. Similar to recent calls for the early adoption of Blockchain technology, the so-called ‘microcredentialing craze’ could be no more than a fad, marketing hype, or another case of ‘learning innovation theater.’ Alternatively, the introduction of these compact skills- and competency-based online certificate programs might augur the arrival of a legitimate successor to the four-year university diploma. The thesis of this article is that the craze for microcredentialing reflects (1) administrative urgency to unbundle higher education curricula and degree programs for greater efficiency and profitability and (2) a renascent movement among industry and higher education leaders to reorient the university curriculum towards vocational training.
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This paper addresses some of the challenges and drawbacks associated to the ongoing worldwide process of marketization (neoliberalization) in higher education. Neoliberalism—the prevailing model of capitalist thinking based on the Washington Consensus—has conveyed the idea that a new educational and university model must emerge in order to meet the demands of a global productive system that is radically different from that of just a few decades ago. The overall argument put forward is that the requirements, particularly the managerial and labor force needs of a new economy—already developing within the parameters of globalization and the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs)—cannot be adequately satisfied under the approaches and methods used by a traditional university. Neoliberalism affects the telos of higher education by redefining the very meaning of higher education. It dislocates education by commodifying its intrinsic value and emphasizing directly transferable skills and competencies. Nonmonetary values are marginalized and, with them, the nonmonetary ethos that is essential in sustaining a healthy democratic society. In this paper I will address (1) some of the problems and shortcomings in the triple-helix model of university-industry-government collaborations, (2) the transformation of students into customers and faculty into entrepreneurial workers, highlighting the many drawbacks of such strategies, (3) the hegemony of rankings as procedures of surveillance and control, (4) the many criticisms posed against neoliberalization in higher education and the possible alternatives looking to the future.
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