Bankers in the Ivory Tower: The Troubling Rise of Financiers in U.S. Higher Education

Charlie Eaton

Charlie Eaton
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of California, Merced

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, the most elite private schools achieve the greatest endowment growth. At the bottom, takeovers by private equity transform for-profit colleges into predatory organizations. And in the middle, public universities are squeezed between funding cuts and enrollment demands. How might the social ties between financiers and universities help us to make sense of these transformations and their potential interconnections?