Large soda, fries and a useless college degree: Order up. As college students today, we are pressured into getting a degree that makes money to find employment — to literally survive or perish.
Institutions of higher education have become largely impersonal in churning out graduates with degrees that may or may not even land them jobs.
In his 1993 book “The McDonaldization of Society,” American sociologist George Ritzer describes the phenomenon of McDonaldization in which societies become more and more like well-known fast-food restaurants. This can largely be applied to the market of higher education.
The organizational focus turns from traditionally fostering a more educated public to making money and pumping out larger numbers of graduates. In short, college is being run more like a business rather than an institution of academia.
Drawing on the work of Max Weber, a 19th-century German sociologist, McDonaldization has four key features that are evident in today’s colleges and university: efficiency, predictability, calculability and control. With efficiency, colleges increasingly push more students through the institution with new and various forms of evaluation.
This can be seen with the shift to blended classes with in-person and online aspects as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. Whatever is easiest to get the class completed is prioritized over the actual learning abilities and information retention of students.
Secondly, predictability makes everyone’s educations the exact same when, in reality, it should be different and accommodating for everyone. Learning is a spectrum; everybody has a different blend of learning styles that is often not reflected in the current education system. Additionally, the classes students take are dependent on meeting requirements that are, to a great extent, applicable to everyone at the university.
All aspects of higher education have shifted to calculability. From putting a monetary value on education to the giving of numerical grades, everything can essentially come down to numbers. Students begin to root their personal value in these numbers, which can be very damaging.
Additionally, with this heavy emphasis of worth being based on grades, students feel less inclined to be active in extracurriculars as it takes away from their schoolwork. Instead of becoming well-rounded, they are specialized into specific niches of study. A diverse degree is possible but not the social standard.
Finally, higher education is exceedingly controlled. Governmental regulation limits the extent to which education can be specialized and independent. Once again, everyone gets the same degree, no matter the amount of effort put in or the passion for the subject. It is through control that the other three factors discussed can be.
The bureaucratization of universities and its effects manifest themselves in complaints from students. Romanticized by media, college has become overvalued, seemingly the only option for high school graduates when it truly is not. With its expensive price tag, a college education also plunges many students into debt with a degree that they will not fully enjoy. College is extremely stressful as well, due to again the over-pressure put on grades and other factors.
While going to college is a choice, the four qualities of efficiency, predictability, calculability and control should not undermine the true ideals of higher education. Students come to college to learn, to get out of their comfort zones, to be creative and to live. We should not be reduced down to numbers or money.
This issue is larger than universities themselves; it is a structural issue. Think about the “McDonaldization” of universities the next time you place that order for a cheeseburger, fries and large soda at the drive-through at your favorite fast food restaurant.