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The Privatization of Education and its Implications for Latinos/as

La privatisation de l’éducation et ses implications pour les Latinos
Rosaura Sánchez et Beatrice Pita


La croissance démographique des Latinos aux États-Unis accompagne le fossé grandissant de l’accès à l’éducation. Plus particulièrement crucial pour cette population en expansion, est la prise en compte de la restructuration néolibérale de l’éducation, de la maternelle à l’université, qui mène inéluctablement à une privatisation de l’enseignement supérieur et à la transformation de l’éducation publique en entreprise privée à but lucratif. Avec l’augmentation des frais de scolarité et l’emploi croissant des outils technologiques et commerciaux dans l’apprentissage, seules les familles issues des communautés aisées auront accès à ce qui auparavant était posé comme un droit civique incontournable, le droit à une éducation publique gratuite et de qualité.

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1In today’s globalized world, nothing is safe from being privatized and turned into a marketable commodity, not even education. In what follows we will examine this phenomenon, the growing privatization of education and its impact on the fast growing U.S. Latino/a population, now estimated to be over 50 million, making Latinos/as the largest ethnic minority group in the nation. The population has grown not only because of immigration but because of a high birth rate. Latinos/as, and especially those of Mexican origin, are a young population. 20% of children younger than five in the U.S. are Latino. For this reason, the education of Latinos/as is a crucial matter, especially if one considers that the drop-out rate of Latinos/as is high and that only 13% of 25-29-year-old Latinos have a bachelor degree as compared to 32% of the general population (Pew Hispanic Center press release). It is these children that will need to be equipped with the necessary skills to replace retiring older workers at every level in this society in the coming years. Making education accessible to all should thus be a priority, but what is happening now, especially in California, is that higher education is less and less accessible and that public schools are under attack by private corporations.

2The problems in education today, at every level, elementary, middle school, high school and college, are unfortunately not being sufficiently discussed by parents and educators. But others are clearly focusing on education as a product, as an area for investment and profit-making. As noted by John Bellamy Foster, education is now being viewed in financial circles “as an unexploited market opportunity.” The existence of a private education industry that is calling for “a further opening-up of the multi-trillion-dollar global public education market to capital accumulation” is alarming, to say the least (Foster, 7). While education has always served the interests of capital, developing a workforce for industry and an increasingly highly technological world, what is now occurring is the commodification of instruction itself and restructuring of the public schools along an industrial model. At institutions of higher learning, a college/university education is becoming a luxury available to those who can afford it. Conservative corporate interests, state budgetary problems, and federal educational policies are coming together in a way that is pernicious to ethnic minority education, especially that of Latinos/as and African Americans.

3In California, for example, public education, whether at the college/university level or the elementary, middle and high school levels, is currently being subjected to heretofore unheard of budget cutbacks. As federal funding of education ends, students in higher education face rising costs, more tuition hikes, fewer course offerings, and larger class sizes (Wyatt). The sad irony of it all is that students wishing to continue their education are facing a lifetime of debt. While government Pell grants have increased recently, as student enrollment, especially of low-income students, rises, even these grants of about $4,400 per student come nowhere near covering tuition. With a decrease in state funding of institutions of higher education, universities and colleges are turning not only to hikes in tuition, but also to private funding. This privatization of education is increasingly a problem at the K-12 level as well as the college/university level. It is both the access to and the quality of education that is at stake.

4Education in the U.S. has been deteriorating steadily in the last decade. When George W. Bush became president he unveiled his “No Child Left Behind Program” (NCLB) that called for the testing of students in every state for proficiency in reading and math; schools were to be assessed for adequate yearly progress (AYP); those not achieving AYP would be subject to “corrective action” that required changes in staff, curriculum and a longer school year; no progress would lead to handing over control of the school to private management, converting the school to a charter school, replacing the staff, or other major restructuring (Foster, 15-16). This NCLB legislation and restructuring had the effect of opening the doors to privatization of public education, the elimination of unionized teachers, and the bureaucratization of schools, with tracking and testing as mandated not by educators but by “authorities”, who are not only determining the pedagogy but assessing the teachers in terms of “value added”, that is, by how students’ scores rise or fall (Foster, 17). Foster goes on to note that in the 21st century era of monopoly finance and information capital, the conviction arose in higher corporate circles that

education could now be managed fully along scientific-technological and financial lines, making it possible to 1) gain control of the labor process of teachers, 2) subordinate schooling to the creation of a more differentiated and routinized labor force, and 3) privatize public education (or as much of it as could be seized without meeting serious resistance. (17)

5Much of the push for corporate school reform movement has been orchestrated by four big philanthropic foundations, headed by “leading representatives of monopoly finance, information and retail capital”:

1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,

2) the Walton Family Foundation,

3) the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation,

and 4) the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. (Foster, 17-18).

6Those involved in this “venture philanthropy” or what others term “philanthrocapitalism” (Foster, 17) funnel money into chosen projects and expect quick returns. While Foster offers several examples, one suffices to give an idea of what these corporations do. The Broad Foundation, says Foster, specializes in the training of a new cadre of neoliberal capitalist education reformers (non-academic types) who are placed in upper management and school superintendent positions and whose salaries are supplemented by the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. It should come as no surprise that schools that hire Broad graduates are fast tracked for Broad Foundation money. The Broad Foundation advocates the privatization of education, breaking teachers’ unions, deprofessionalizing education, and unrelenting testing of students, all under the guise of “closing the achievement gap” (Foster, 19), but in fact these are moves designed to impose restructuring of the schools.

7What we should probably now call the education industry has found that education is a domestic business opportunity in the K-12 market, with billions of dollars at stake as it markets its technology hardware, testing systems and instructional content materials. Companies profiting from restructuring and the expanding education industry include Apple, Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Palm, Texas Instruments, Pearson, Harcourt, McGraw Hill, Thomson, Houghton Mifflin and several others (Foster, 28). What Foster calls “digital-based Taylorism” in education constitutes nothing other than a neoliberal assault on education. These new conservative education experts trained by these foundations are loath to consider social factors, like poverty, racism or inequality, in assessing achievement. They assume that businesslike principles and protocols, cost-benefit analyses and charter schools, are the answer to all education ills. Geared to testing and data collection and focused on technology within a corporate model of organization, the success factor of these charter schools is however debatable, since students are selectively admitted. Whether we are talking of charter schools or the voucher system, marshaled ostensibly to save a failing education system, both are part of a project radically transforming and destroying the very notion of free public education.

8The current structural crisis of the economic system in tandem with the neoliberal restructuring of schools is deeply affecting the U.S. educational system and especially the majority of poor and working-class students who attend public schools. Teachers are under attack for not meeting accountability levels and evaluated in terms of “value added”, meaning how much improvement there is in their students’ test scores. These quantitative measures leave much to be desired as they take out of consideration factors impinging upon both students’ and teachers’ performance. As government withholds funding of education, the situation becomes even more critical. For that reason, in California in May 2011 thousands of teachers, students and supporters participated in a “State of Emergency”, a public education protest in Sacramento, reminding us that “Another Education is Possible”.

9The reality is that for those students whose parents can afford a private education, there is a wide range of opportunities and curriculum choices, but at the poorly funded public schools, choice is often limited. This becomes especially evident in barrio or ghetto schools where required courses for admission to colleges and universities are often not available. Even when the curriculum is offered, students unable to take the college-track courses during the regular school term are further thwarted when they find summer school programs have been cut in many districts in California, also because of the budget crunch (Brandt). While Pew statistics point to an increase in the admission of Latinos/as to colleges, especially two-year community colleges, the fact remains that few Latinos/as, only 13%, complete four years of college. What is also the case is that such students in K-12 have a high drop-out rate. The high school graduation rate for Latinos/as in California is 68% and 56% for students who are learning English. This compares with an even lower 59% for African American students, 83.4% for whites and a higher 89.4% for Asians (Blume).

10While it is widely known that race- and class-based tracking has long been practiced in public education, in addition to current cutbacks and the privatization of public education, Latino/a students are facing problems of another order. Highly politicized xenophobic measures that have been passed in several states, especially in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah, are making it difficult for parents to even send their children to school. In Alabama, an anti-immigrant law slated to take effect on Sept. 1st, 2011, that would require school teachers to determine the immigration status of students, led Latino parents to enroll their children early, long before the term started, before the law took effect (“Educators Say …”). Although these laws are being challenged in court, they are having the effect of making it difficult for Latino/a parents to send their children to school.

11The corporatization of education is even more pronounced at the university level, where private funding in the form of grants and endowments determines research objectives and programs and consequently the character of education offered. The university too has become part of the corporate system and for that reason university administrators today focus heavily on “development”, that is, the bringing in of private funds and grants. Masao Miyoshi notes that “development – that is, industrial utility – is the principal objective of the research university.” (206) University researchers, especially in the sciences and engineering, are part of today’s entrepreneurial university that serves the interests of corporations and the marketplace. Instead of being centers of study for intellectual development and scientific research, universities have become sites “dedicated to corporate research and development.” (ibidem, 208)

12The following example points to this clearly. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 enables universities to “own, patent and retain title to inventions developed from federally funded research programs,” although, for the most part, university-generated inventions are primarily licensed or contracted to private industries (ibid., 218-219). University presidents and chancellors that sit on the boards of numerous corporations now function more as CEOs than as academic scholars and leaders (ibid., 216), as can be seen in the fact that the former President of the University of California, Robert Dynes, came from Bell Laboratories, rather than from academia. The current cohort of extremely highly paid university administrators coming from the private sector bring, as Samuels puts it, “a purely corporate mentality that is in conflict with the stated mission of educational institutions.” (“How America’s …”) It is not difficult to acknowledge that modern universities have always served the interests of capital and been oriented towards particular class interests, that is bourgeois interests, as well as national interests and that funding for military research from the federal government continues to be one of the major sources of income for science departments in American universities. Miyoshi speaks to this in citing a former President of the University of California, Richard Atkinson, who during his tenure noted that the University of California was “an 11.5 billion-a-year enterprise,” but that, since the state of California only provided about two billion dollars, the rest, $9.5 billion, came from other funds, private and federal. Today, the University of California’s total budget is $20 billion including hospital revenue, research grants, and private donations (Gordon). Although the threat of the wholesale privatization of the university is imminent, the underlying truth is that the university is already highly privatized. And, as Miyoshi again makes clear, the corporations profiting from university research are often multinational corporations, like the Switzerland-based Sandoz biotechnology multinational corporation (221-223). To facilitate what are in effect university-industry venture operations, universities now establish special offices of technology transfers and facilitate interaction between local industries and universities (225).

13These university-industry venture operations have increasingly become the primary objective of universities, not education. Gone are the days of thinking of public education as a public good; what holds sway today in higher education are goods, products and patents. In fact, as Samuel notes, “instruction is just a small part of what these institutions do.” (“How America’s …,” 4) At UCLA, where he teaches, he finds that less than 5% of the campus total budget is spent on undergraduate instruction. Corporate interests have not only led to the entrepreneurial transformation of the university, but they are affecting curriculum as well; those departments offering courses in the humanities, that do not generate grants and outside funding, see their funding cut or are simply discontinued at a number of campuses, with even tenured faculty encouraged to retire or depart or subsumed into other departments (Miyoshi, 214). Thus while state funding decreases for higher education and leads to hikes in tuition, pay freezes and disestablished programs, budgetary gains from private funding continue to increase yearly, although these funds come with constraints and cannot be used for undergraduate education (Gordon, 7). In this brave new world of higher education, the new departments that are created on campuses are in engineering and science, programs oriented towards products that can be patented. Along with these new university-private sector programs comes an increase in the number of university administrators, associate and assistant chancellors or provosts, heavily focused on revenue enhancement and the numerous fund-raising and high-tech research activities of the campuses.

14Universities are also intent on other avenues to make money and increase “efficiencies” in “product delivery”, that is, in what used to be known as teaching. Many have launched “virtual university programs” and are now making use of internet websites for undergraduate classes that can be taken online, and are heavily invested in promoting distance learning as the “future of education”. What is really at stake is the bottom-line calculus of the advantage of replacing a number of faculty members by using one to reach thousands of students (Miyoshi, 215), much like the University of Phoenix, a for-profit system that uses a few professors and numerous part-time teachers to reach thousands. Clearly the university is now more interested in revenue-producing activities, be it online instruction, distance learning, financial rewards from inventions and patents, or private funding.

15California’s much touted “Master Plan” (online at: <http://www.universityofcalifornia. edu/aboutuc/masterplan.html>) of providing the state’s residents high quality and low-cost access to education from kindergarten to the university is now a thing of the past. As state funding of public universities and colleges has decreased, students are facing continually rising tuition costs. At the University of California, students’ tuition and fees have risen to more than $13,000; if one includes room and board, a public university education in California now costs over $31,000 a year. The University of California has also begun to increase its out-of-state admissions, as these students bring in more revenue. Nonresidents are now expected to make up about 10% of University of California undergraduates, creating de facto competitive bidding for UC slots. The growing number of resident students unable to pay these increasing educational costs will be taking out student loans and, as Samuels notes, these loans are often at high interest rates: “students are forced to take out subprime student loans, often charging 6% interest so that the University can borrow money at a reduced rate” (“How America’s …,” 2). Ironically, the revenue from rising student tuition and fees is also used as collateral for construction bonds totaling billions that the University of California needs to build not teaching facilities but research venues. Samuels finds that to satisfy bond-raters, the University, following the business model, promises “to restrain labor costs, increase tuition, diversify revenue streams, feed the money-making sectors, and resist the further unionization of its employees.” (idem) Samuels further notes that University of California President Yudof appeals to the bond-raters by feeding money to the revenue-generating areas like hospitals. The University of California’s problem, as Yudof has posed it, is having to fund non-revenue-generating public areas, like English departments, the humanities in general, or sociology departments. That these are key academic areas at the core of the university’s mission is not the issue for Yudof, although according to Samuels, “most humanities programs turn a huge profit that is then distributed to support the supposedly profit-making sectors.” (ibid., 3).

16The objective of what are today higher education enterprises is clear: revenue enhancement. And the beneficiaries of the education ‘product’ being offered are clearly to be students who can bear the cost. The assumption that a public education is a right that should be available to all no longer holds, even as a public relations ideal. Public universities, like the University of California, are beginning to look more and more like private universities, or like the University of Michigan, a public university the financing of which is increasingly private (Gordon, 7). The rising costs of education already affect the Latino/a population in adverse ways, all the more so considering the widening wealth gap between whites and minorities. Higher education is thus a two-tiered system. One tier is for Research and Development; here researchers, professors and graduate students working in particular privately or federally funded projects will continue to operate as usual. The other tier is that of professors and students not involved in these revenue-producing projects that will face cutbacks, tuition hikes, and high costs. For the latter, state funding will continue to decrease, making tuition more costly and making it difficult for low-income families to send their children to college.

17There is, of course, another side to this madness and that involves unmasking what actually is going on at the level of costs. When one considers instructional costs for students and what students pay in tuition and fees, as Samuels has done, then it appears that most of the money coming from students and the state is not going for undergraduate instruction but for “sponsored research, graduate education, administration and extracurricular activities”, the latter being seen as what “sells” and attracts students to campuses (“The Solution …”). Of course, universities have also been affected by the global financial meltdown, gambling, as university investors have done, with pension funds in bad investments.

18Students are told that financial aid and Pell Grants from the federal government are still available; what is clear, however, is that a university education will increasingly be reserved for those students whose families can afford it and those who are able to go into long-term six-digit debt. Other students will go to community colleges, but even in California, in view of the budget cuts, community colleges are offering fewer classes, students are being turned away, and college spaces are being taken by University of California eligible students unable to pay University of California rates (Wyatt). We need to remember that a large percentage of minority students in college are attending community colleges. Latinos/as represent 22% of two-year college students and only 12% of four-year college students, according to Pew, and even those students that succeed in going to four-year colleges are finding themselves carrying huge debt when they finish their careers. The assurances proffered by the American dream of upward mobility through education are becoming a nightmare of debt and exclusion.

19The 21st century is thus proving to be a most trying time for public education, but corporations investing in education and in research at institutions of higher learning are doing fine. Public universities, like the University of California, have forgotten their mission to make higher education available to all residents at a low cost. Providing a good education to the citizenry is no longer of interest to corporations that see universities and schools as sites for state subsidized research and development and for investment and increased profit. The impact of these new directions in education will need to be addressed and challenged by teachers, students and parents, especially Latino/a parents, as their children will be making up a large percentage of the public education system population in this country. Too much is at stake.

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BLUME Howard, “Eighth Grade Dropout Rate 3.5%,” Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2011, AA1, AA4.

BRANDT Stacy, “Fewer than Half of 2010 Grads Had Classes Needed for College,” San Diego North County Times, August 22, 2011, A1.

“Educators Say Law Not Working,” San Diego North County Times, August. 17, 2011, A3, unspecified author.

FOSTER John Bellamy, “Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital: The U.S. Case,” Monthly Review 63. 3, July - August 2011: 6-37.

GORDON Larry, “A First: UC Fees Exceed State Funding,” Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2011, A1, A7.

MIYOSHI Masao, “Ivory Tower in Escrow,” in Eric Cazden (ed.), Trespasses: Selected Writings, Durham: Duke UP, 2010, 205-242.

Pew Hispanic Center, “Hispanic College Enrollment Spikes, Narrowing Gaps with Other Groups,” August 25, 2011. Press release online at <


SAMUELS Bob, “How America’s Universities Became Hedge Funds,” Huffington Post, January 28, 2010. Online at <>.

――――――, “The Solution They Won’t Try.” Online at <

2010/06/04/samuels>, accessed 2011/08/25.

WYATT Kristen, “Tuition Hikes Fail to Stop Cutbacks in Higher Ed,” San Diego North County Times, September 9, 2011, A7.

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Rosaura Sánchez et Beatrice Pita, « The Privatization of Education and its Implications for Latinos/as », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. XI – n° 2 | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2013, consulté le 18 juin 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.5287

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Rosaura Sánchez

Rosaura Sánchez is Professor of Latin American Literature and Chicano Literature at the University of California at San Diego. Her publications include Chicano Discourse: A Socio-Historic Perspective. Rowley, Mass: Newbury House, 1983 (repr. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1994), Telling Identities: The Californio Testimonios (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995) and “Reconstructing Chicana Gender Identity,” American Literary History, 9.2 (Summer 1997): 350-363.

Beatrice Pita

Beatrice Pita teaches in the Spanish section of the Department of Literature at the University of California at San Diego. With Rosaura Sánchez she has edited and written the Introduction to María Amparo Ruiz de Burton's two novels The Squatter and the Don (1992) and Who Would Have Thought It? (1995), and also Conflicts of Interests: The Letters of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton (2001).

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