Degrees of Inequality
How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream
America’s 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 America s 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 nation s 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.
Published by Basic Books
Praise for Degrees of Inequality
We’re having the wrong conversation about higher education in our country. So argues Suzanne Mettler in her provocative new book…. [A] thoroughly researched argument that leaves one both a little bit smarter about how politics work in this country and also very worried about a college and university system so clearly in crisis.
— Gary Rivlin, The New York Times Book Review.
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.
— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Mettler delivers a broadside to for-profit universities and the politics that enrich them. The author spent eight years researching and writing her withering attack, and her data is devastating…. A thorough and deeply troubling analysis of a quiet but ominous threat to democracy.
— Kirkus, Starred Review
Reform is past due, and Mettler’s well-researched book needs to fall into the hands of those who will read, heed, and rally for change.
[A] provocative new book…. Mettler argues that this drift in public policy over the past quarter-century — in Washington and in statehouses — has exacerbated gaps between the haves and the have-nots, undermining the ideal of college as an engine of upward social mobility.
[A] timely and thorough discussion of unequal access to higher education…. This work is essential for students of programs in higher education policy, government, and political science as well as anyone interested in the current state of higher education.
—Library Journal, Starred Review
Degrees of Inequality is a trenchant analysis of how our severely dysfunctional politics has undermined one of the foundational pillars of the American Dream. Mettler powerfully and convincingly demonstrates how partisan polarization and plutocratic biases have shaped higher education policy in recent years and why reform is so urgent. An engaging and essential read for citizens and policymakers alike.
—Thomas E. Mann, author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks