An Observation of Student Conceptions of Success and the Value of Higher Education at Boise State University

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date



College of Arts and Sciences



Faculty Sponsor

Arthur Scarritt


The permeating atmosphere of Neoliberal influence causes exchange-driven mentality. Students compose ideological mindsets that persist in the face of real experiences despite those experiences being substantive evidence of the falsehood of that mindset. The spirit of neoliberalism remains a cornerstone of student communication about success, regardless of it falling short of meeting those needs they express, or explaining the experiences they describe. The communication is often itself, a neoliberal construct, a ritual language, as students communicate in terms of neoliberalism to defend their deviance from the norms it itself pressures them with.

This is a case of neoliberalism affecting the perceived value of higher education. Neoliberal influences spanning from for profit motivated artificial success metrics, and fetishization of grades, to the teaching of capitalist market employee values, undermine the internalizations of success in students at Boise State University. Not only is it often difficult for them to express the value of their education outside of terminology in line with neoliberalism, but they often cannot define success itself, or their means to it, at all. Rather, they describe themselves in terms of value they possess, commoditizing themselves for sale to potential employers in conversation. They struggle to identify in an impossibly ambiguous and unobtainable definition, which they cannot describe except with excuses for their failure to participate in. They work to fit using with neoliberal language, into an impossible neoliberal definition, perpetuated by the normalization of the mindset and language rituals they enact. They suffer a Sisyphean dilemma.

Long before a student is present at the university, and as it is reinforced through the higher education process, they are taught a language of neoliberal evaluation. The normalization of the neoliberal system is at the foundation of various actions taken, and claims made, by students. They then go on to live experiences which cannot be contained by that ideology. That failure to be compartmentalized includes those students without the privileges normalized by the institution, who then defend their positions as students through the language of the neoliberal ideology. That ideology questions the validity of their identification as students. It also teaches them to do so in a way which protects those privileges, as neoliberalism does, while allowing those underprivileged their partially perceived intention to buy privilege from the higher education process.

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