The University Today: Economics


This is the third of four posts on trends shaping the world of higher education today. The original audience for this material was the 2015 World Assembly of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, a gathering of collegiate ministry leaders from over 150 countries in Oaxtepec, Mexico. The two previous posts have dealt with internationalization, and technology.

This week, I turn to the economic issues shaping the landscape of higher education and consider the implications this has on research programs, the fate of academic programs, and access to higher education for prospective students from various socio-economic backgrounds. The questions I pose at the end concern the issues of justice and equity raised by these economic trends.


Universities in most countries are facing economic pressures. In many settings, state subsidies of higher education has been significantly cut. Part of this reflects the massive debt loads many countries are facing. This also is reflected in changes in global research funding trends. The U.S. accounted for 37 % of research funding in 2001, but only 30% in 2011. EU funding dropped from 26 to 22 % in the same period while East and Southeast Asia research funding increased from 25 to 34 %.[1]

What these economic pressures have led to is the increasing corporatization of the university. Academic departments are being treated as “profit centers” and expansions or cuts in programs are determined almost solely on the basis of revenues generated. There has been a spate of articles in American media about the growth of the administrative class while growth in tenured faculty positions has been far slower, and universities increasingly rely upon lecturers or adjunct faculty to control costs.

One of the factors that drive international student enrollments is that many are subsidized by their governments or represent the economic elites of their countries and can afford to pay premium tuitions, enhancing the bottom lines of cash-strapped institutions.

The other economic issue is that students and their families are bearing increasing financial burdens for education, and this may lead to a new elitism in education. Student debt in the U.S. is currently estimated at $1.3 trillion dollars.[2] In countries where the cost of education is increasingly shifted to students, there is a danger of accentuating class divisions and opportunity inequities.


  1. How might we advocate for shalom and justice in the university as it struggles with issues of cost?
  2. What ought to be our response if we find ourselves in the elite, or ministering to the cultural elites on our campuses?

[1] (last accessed 6/22/2016).

[2] (last accessed 6/22/2016).

Review: Overturning Tables

Overturning TablesOverturning Tables, Scott Bessenecker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014

Summary: Scott Bessenecker argues that Western missions efforts are often captive to corporate culture and practices inconsistent with efforts to reach across cultures and to the marginal peoples outside the corporate world.

“Business as mission is not what I am addressing in this book; my concern is mission as business.”

Scott Bessenecker, a missions leader working in collegiate ministry, contends that Western missions efforts are shaped more by the corporate and business culture of the Western world, and often codified in government regulation of non-profits, than they are reflective of the values, and practices of Jesus and early Christians, as well as Christian missions arising from more marginalized peoples. He calls this the “Christian industrial complex.”

In “A Tale of Two Missions” he traces the growth of two divergent models in the early 1800s. One is the missions board, headed up by church and corporate leaders that raises large sums to send missionaries with modest but western accommodations (sometimes compounds). He contrasts this with the mission started by George Leile, a former slave who goes without board or church support to Jamaica to preach among slaves, supporting himself by his own labor.

In succeeding chapters he argues for a series of shifts that reflect what he believes is a move to a more gospel of the kingdom-centered approach to missions. He calls for movement from corporate to more local, indigenous efforts. He pleads for a more prophetically driven rather than finance and “profit” driven approach. He argues for a gospel not just centered on individual converts but also concerned for the cosmos. He argues for a move from an individually focused mission enterprise to communal solidarity on both the sending and receiving end where churches really send teams into mission, and those teams integrate with local leadership. He argues for ministries that reach the margins of societies, not the middle class mainstream that our corporate models direct us toward. He calls us away from metrics being the only measures of growth to the pursuit of flourishing people.

This is hard-hitting stuff. One of the things he touches on is that our Western organizations are set up within the constraints of 501(c)(3) status that affords tax exempt and tax deductible status but comes with certain requirements. Westerners who want to do mission in a different way may need to be willing to do this without these structures–finding alternate means of support, working under agencies in other countries, living at different standards.

The book is also inspiring because the rest of the world isn’t waiting for Christians in the West to change. Bessenecker tells a number of stories of efforts in the Majority World that are bringing the gospel to marginal peoples unreached by more traditional efforts. Nigerians are planting churches in Mexico, Koreans in Mongolia and much more.

There is a challenge in every culture that we try to fill old wineskins reflecting our cultural captivities with the new wine of the message of Jesus. Missions leaders need to consider the outcome of this story which is that the wineskins end up bursting, unless new wineskins are found. Bessenecker’s book gives us some notions of the shape and character of these new wineskins.

Review: The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University

The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University
The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University by Ellen Schrecker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ellen Schrecker is a historian and what she writes is a history of academic freedom issues at universities through the twentieth century. The surprising thing to me is that by and large, there are very few instances, and most in the McCarthy era of breaches of academic freedom. Even here it seems that Schrecker is working with a far more expansive idea of academic freedom that simply the freedom of a professor to address curriculum objectives in the matter he or she deems best and to choose freely one’s lines of research inquiry. What is less clear in the whole area of academic freedom what protection should be given to speech and associations that have nothing to do with one’s discipline but affect the reputation of the institution you work with. The truth is, except for rare instances, even here tenured faculty are generally protected. Primarily, Schrecker’s finding is that the exception almost always involves the squeeky wheel who doesn’t get along with colleagues or who insists upon saying outrageous things outside the classroom context, such as the Ward Churchill incident.

The last third of the book focuses on corporatization, and it seemed to me that the book could have simply focused here. Her account of the cost economies brought on by the recession of 2008, the increases in contingent or adjunct faculty and the almost complete lack of standing these individuals have is probably the most revealing part of the book. This has major implications for the quality of instruction,the governance of the university, as well as the just treatment of the new teaching “underclass”. The real story of the lack of academic freedom is here–adjuncts are employed “at will”, often have no offices or even university emails. Indeed, they hardly exist outside the classes they teach in the university’s eyes.

In sum, I thought this was really two books in one. Each was worthy of treatment. I suspect the historic survey of academic freedom was attractive to the author while the corporatization issues far more pressing. I also would have like a greater consideration of academic responsibility–what are the obligations of faculty that go along with the freedom and protections for which this author advocates. Here, Stanley Fish in Save the World on Your Own Time was actually far more helpful in outlining both the obligations,and in his mind, limits of academic freedom, which doesn’t extend to proselytizing students for one’s own cause or to one’s out of classroom and research activity.

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