Charlie EatonMay 31, 2022
Bankers in the Ivory Tower
The Troubling Rise of Financiers in US Higher Education
University of Chicago Press 2022
Elite colleges have long played a crucial role in maintaining social and class status in America while public universities have offered a major stepping-stone to new economic opportunities. However, as Charlie Eaton reveals in Bankers in the Ivory Tower: The Troubling Rise of Financiers in US Higher Education (U Chicago Press, 2022), finance has played a central role in the widening inequality in recent decades, both in American higher education and in American society at large.
With federal and state funding falling short, the US higher education system has become increasingly dependent on financial markets and the financiers that mediate them. Beginning in the 1980s, the government, colleges, students, and their families took on multiple new roles as financial investors, borrowers, and brokers. The turn to finance, however, has yielded wildly unequal results. At the top, ties to Wall Street help the most elite private schools achieve the greatest endowment growth through hedge fund investments and the support of wealthy donors. At the bottom, takeovers by private equity transform for-profit colleges into predatory organizations that leave disadvantaged students with massive loan debt and few educational benefits. And in the middle, public universities are squeezed between incentives to increase tuition and pressures to maintain access and affordability. Eaton chronicles these transformations, making clear for the first time just how tight the links are between powerful financiers and America's unequal system of higher education.
Charlie Eaton is an economic sociologist and Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Merced. He studies the role of social ties, organizations, and politics in the interplay between financiers, other elites, and subordinate social groups. His work has been published in Socio-Economic Review, Politics & Society, The Review of Financial Studies, Socius, Sociology Compass, and PS: Political Science and Politics.
Tom Discenna is Professor of Communication at Oakland University whose work examines issues of academic labor and communicative labor more broadly.