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Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dreamby Suzanne Mettler
Synopses & Reviews
Americas higher education system is failing its students. In the space of a generation, we have gone from being the best-educated society in the world to one surpassed by eleven other nations in college graduation rates. Higher education is evolving into a caste system with separate and unequal tiers that take in students from different socio-economic backgrounds and leave them more unequal than when they first enrolled.
Until the 1970s, the United States had a proud history of promoting higher education for its citizens. The Morrill Act, the G.I. Bill and Pell Grants enabled Americans from across the income spectrum to attend college and the nation led the world in the percentage of young adults with baccalaureate degrees. Yet since 1980, progress has stalled. Young adults from low to middle income families are not much more likely to graduate from college than four decades ago. When less advantaged students do attend, they are largely sequestered into inferior and often profit-driven institutions, from which many emerge without degrees—and shouldering crushing levels of debt.
In Degrees of Inequality, acclaimed political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains why the system has gone so horribly wrong and why the American Dream is increasingly out of reach for so many. In her eye-opening account, she illuminates how political partisanship has overshadowed Americas commitment to equal access to higher education. As politicians capitulate to corporate interests, owners of for-profit colleges benefit, but for far too many students, higher education leaves them with little besides crippling student loan debt. Meanwhile, the nations public universities have shifted the burden of rising costs onto students. In an era when a college degree is more linked than ever before to individual—and societal—well-being, these pressures conspire to make it increasingly difficult for students to stay in school long enough to graduate.
By abandoning their commitment to students, politicians are imperiling our highest ideals as a nation. Degrees of Inequality offers an impassioned call to reform a higher education system that has come to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, socioeconomic inequality in America.
"The long-running debate on higher education in America is masterfully served by Cornell political scientist Mettler's carefully researched study, which roams between history, polemic, and analysis with aplomb while championing the positive legacy of equal opportunity in education. Mettler (The Submerged State) arrays an impressive arsenal of statistical data to bolster her claim that for-profit educational institutions are not only overpriced, but fail to deliver the promise of higher education to students who leave disproportionately saddled with debt and diminished job prospects. Though the book orbits the central theme of the for-profits and their outsized political influence, she frames this with a history of higher education and its attendant laws, as well as an excellent introduction to political science that explains — in approachable language — the myriad impacts of law and the ways in which the intentions of legislators are often deformed. In one memorable passage, she avoids facile conclusions in examining the role of money in influencing politics, concluding that while money matters, its impact is far more complex than popular cynicism would imagine. These ideas are informed by a sincere belief in the power of education on Mettler's part, but her analysis does not suffer. She avoids easy sloganeering and instead focuses on plutocracy, partisanship, and how we might end education policy's 'politics of drift.' Agent: Lisa Adams, Garamond Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Americas higher education system is failing its students. In the space of a generation, we have gone from being the best-educated society in the world to one in which a college degree benefits only to those in the top income brackets. In Degrees of Inequality, acclaimed political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains why the system has gone so horribly wrong and why the American Dream is increasingly out of reach for so many.
In her eye-opening account, Mettler illuminates how political partisanship has overshadowed Americas commitment to equal access to higher education. As politicians capitulate to corporate interests, owners of for-profit colleges benefit, but many of their students gain little aside from massive student loan debt. Meanwhile the nations public universities have shifted the burden of rising costs onto students, and skyrocketing tuition fees make it increasingly difficult for students to finish their degrees.
A comprehensive examination of how politicians have failed our students and our highest ideals as a nation, Degrees of Inequality is clarion call for education reform.
Once a sure path to the American Dream, college is now creating a caste system within American society
About the Author
Suzanne Mettler is the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions in the Government department at Cornell University, specializing in political development, public policy, and political behavior. She is also a fellow at the Century Foundation, and she previously served as president of the Politics and History section of APSA, and on the Associations Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy. The author of The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy, Mettler lives in Syracuse, NY.
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