Blogpost: Adaptation from an upcoming article, The Convergence of Education and Labor Markets

By Nabih Haddad

The following blog post is an adaptation of a forthcoming article titled “ORDER, DISCIPLINE AND EXIGENCY: The Convergence of U.S. and Cuban Education Policy in the Service of Labor Market,” by Larry Catá Backer and Nabih Haddad, due out in 2013.

Part 1

Post-secondary education has been shifting from a teaching based model to a vocational based model; one that is managed through the development of well-targeted measurable outcomes that meet the requirements of students, employers, and private constituencies (Gumport, 2005; Giroux, 2002).  This suggests a profound effect on the foundational premises of the delivery system which higher education is traditionally based on.  This trend will end the traditional model of higher education – one that was focused on the faculty (academic) and the dissemination of knowledge to both the students and to the public– to one that is grounded on the student as a consumer and the consumption of information for targeted constituencies.  This shift in orientation has transformed the university system to reflect a “made to market” approach to program and course development (Backer, 2012a).  Of course, public universities deviate from the pure corporate structuring, due to the complex interactions between state appropriations, pricing restrictions, and so on.  The focus of this article is on the effects on the development of pedagogy, course content, and programs in higher education.  It touches on the role of labor markets in the construction of educational programs, made more complicated (though not exceptionally so) when public regulators also have a power to intervene in the development of programs of education delivery. (Backer, 2012a)

One of the effects of this dynamic is to encourage a tendency toward “made to market” education (Backer, 2012a).  When an industry captures a department or college, and worse, when it uses its influence within public accrediting body to further its own parochial interests, not only does the university (and its faculty) lose its autonomy (and control over the character and context of the research it produces), it also fails to serve the greater needs of the wage labor markets itself and perhaps, perversely, the public good.  It tends, in the second instance, to relieve faculty (and university administrators eager for the short term benefits of student placements and contented employers) of a substantial responsibility for its curriculum in the macro (programs and degrees) and the micro (courses and course content) sense (Backer, 2012b; Ginsberg,2011).

In a sense, there is a real pressure to reform or even make obsolete the institutional autonomy of the university. There has been a growth in the expectations of higher education, coupled with higher levels of public pressures and scrutiny, at a time when its autonomy and resources are being threatened (Gumport,2005).  The fundamental shift in educational priorities from general education as an important facilitator for social, civic, and public engagement, to one premised substantially on relevant markets- student fees, prestige, status, grant generators, and efficiency (Campbell & Slaughter, 1999; Cohen, Florida, Randazzese, & Walsh, 1998).  This results in the public mission of the university to be reduced by and to become an appendage of a private mission, in addition to producing and transferring a socializing effect to students which favors a culture of market parochialism  grounded on business and cultural socialization (Slaughter, Campbell, Hollernan, & Morgan, 2002).

“Made to market education” (Backer, 2012), when closely tied to the needs of particular markets carries with it the danger of loss of institutional autonomy -the university is no longer capable of developing its own notions of how to produce product and for which market- nonetheless, it may also encourage industry to capture, and thus, lessen the ability of the university to best meet its objectives.  Sensitivity to the needs of the wage labor market is important.  Greater sensitivity to the utility of education for students is perhaps even more important.  But the university’s obligation to meet those needs is not limited by the short term and parochial needs of certain segments of the wage labor markets or by the short term assessments of needs by students.  The problem is one of abdication of the autonomous role of the university and its faculty in the articulation of short and long term goals of education and the autonomous development of programs that may help students attain them and the wage labor markets to profit by them.  That movement from public to private service missions will also have a profound effect on the form of university education and the mechanics of its delivery.


Backer, L. C.  (2012a). Made to Market Education and Professionalization in University Education. Retrieved from

Backer, L. C.  (2012b). Administrative Bloat by Deans and Other Unit Administrators–An Overlooked but Important Source of Direct Attack on Shared Governance. Retrieved from

Campbell, T. I. D. & Slaughter, S. (1999). Faculty and administrators’ attitudes toward potential conflicts of interest, commitment, and equity in university-industry relationships. Journal of Higher Education, 70(3): 309-352.

Cohen, W. M., Florida, R., Randazzese, L. P., & Walsh, J. (1998). Industry and the academy: Uneasy partners in the cause of technological advance. In R. Noll (Ed.), Challenges to research universities. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Gumport, Patricia. J.(2005). The Organization of Knowledge: Imperatives for Continuity and Change in Higher Education. In Ivar Bleiklie and Mary Henkel (eds.) Governing Knowledge: A Study of Continuity and Change in Higher Education. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Giroux, H.A. (2002) Neoliberalism, corporate culture, and the promise of higher education: The university as democratic public sphere. Harvard Educational Review 72 (4), 424-463.

Ginsberg, B. (2011). The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters .New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Slaughter, S., Campbell, T., Hollernan, M., & Morgan, E. (2002). The “traffic” in graduate students: Graduate students as tokens of exchange between academe and industry. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 27(2), 282-313.



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