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Higher education was descending deeper into enrollment and financial crises even before the COVID pandemic hit. Families were suffocating under the burden of student load debt, feeding doubts about the worth of a college degree. Now COVID-induced pressures are forcing many colleges and universities to struggle over least-worst choices among their students’ education, public health, and financial sustainability. As pandemic fears persist, so have fears that the combination of remote learning, digital disparities, and rising costs will keep students away.
For many, a college education continues to serve as a gateway to social mobility and the middle class, but accessibility to the best education and most promising opportunities tend to reflect and exacerbate systemic inequities, often along racial, gender, and class lines. As vital cultural, intellectual, and employment engines woven into local, regional, and national political economies, how can universities and colleges more equitably and ethically serve all members of their communities? Can they use this moment to transform themselves to better address the challenges they, their students, and students’ families face?
Join Nina Bandelj, Jonathan Jansen, and Caitlin Zaloom in conversation with Debra Satz as they consider these questions in the United States and South Africa contexts. The current and post-COVID challenges and risks confronting higher ed, students, and families are formidable; the steps they take will have consequences for years, if not decades. No less than the place that higher ed occupies in our societies is in need of reevaluation.