Student Internalization of Neoliberal Model of Higher Education: Students as “Consumers” of Commoditized Education
Arthur Scarritt and Sergio Romero
College students confront an overarching discourse of individual responsibility while simultaneously being forced to cope with shrinking economic resources. In practice, how do different students finance their higher education in the wake of the current recession, drawing upon both individual and collective resources? In contrast, how much do students feel it is their personal responsibility to individually pay for their own education? Do students believe that society should be funding their education? The prevailing neoliberal discourse characterizes individual students as being in total control of their education therein stressing a decrease of public funding for higher education. At the same time, this discourse defines success as one’s ability to obtain monetary wealth and high social status. This study examines how students are coping with an increased privatization of financial resources for funding college, while internalizing a sense of personal responsibility surrounding their higher education. To do so, this study utilizes open-ended interviews with undergraduate students examining their various strategies in college.
This study identifies three groups that students fall into; those students who consciously employ alternative coping mechanisms that go against the discourse of individual responsibility, those who internalize the discourse of individual responsibility, made evident through individualized strategies, and those who are forced to use individualized strategies against their sense of where individual responsibility belongs in higher education. By identifying non-individualized coping mechanisms, the power of challenging neoliberal discourse is illuminated. By determining individualized coping mechanisms that some students are forced to use, this study identifies some major barriers to collective action. The findings suggest small institutional changes that the university system can make in order to improve students’ experiences in college.