Summary of The Commodification of Higher Education

The Atlantic,

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The Commodification of Higher Education summary
Universities today function like a marketplace where schools compete for students to buy their product.


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The Atlantic magazine’s Alia Wong charts the rise of the U.S. News & World Report university rankings in the 1980s as part of a larger trend toward the commodification of higher education. The 21st-century academic system functions like a marketplace where schools compete for the best students to buy their product, but many top educators contend that the rankings have a detrimental effect on higher education. getAbstract recommends this critical analysis to students, parents, educators, school administrators and counselors seeking a more holistic perspective on what makes for a quality university experience beyond the rankings.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How university rankings have helped fuel the commodification of higher education in the United States
  • How educators are fighting back
  • Why the influence of rankings is unlikely to wane in the near future


U.S. News and World Report first published its now widely influential college and university rankings in 1983, at a time when the commodification of higher education was in full swing. By the early 1980s, access to higher education had dramatically expanded in the United States, but the number of high school graduates was starting to drop, leaving academia scrambling for new recruits. Further exacerbating their shrinking revenues, universities faced a range of funding cutbacks from the federal government. In response, schools began to develop commercial marketing techniques to attract students – and the U.S. News rankings became an important marketing tool in their efforts.

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About the Author

Alia Wong is associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the education section.

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