Neoliberalism and the Violence of Scholastic Scholarships

Neoliberalism, which has little to do with the political philosophy called (modern) liberalism in the present-day United States, has its roots in classical liberalism and in (modern) conservatism. Neoliberalism is also so powerful and pervasive that most people cannot see it and never really know what it is.

Neoliberalism has a variety of tenets and goals. These include:

  • removing the government as an entity responsible for its members (especially in terms of social services) and transferring responsibility to private businesses and organizations 
  • enhancing the role of money and costs of doing “business” – thereby, ensuring the inefficiency of everyday life and the perpetuity of capitalism  (e.g., it would save the government and its members billions, if not trillions, of dollars, if it provided “free” education and healthcare for all).
  • trusting private business over the government and not trusting any form of regulation or governmental power
  • believing that every person is ultimately responsible for him or herself and that nature and nurture are irrelevant and believing that private property is essential to creating moral citizens 
  • erasing (most) geopolitical boundaries between nations when it comes to economic opportunities  
  • emphasizing (unique, rare, exceptional) individual people and their stories as proof of how successful the social order is 
  • believing “that the world needs exceptional heroes and elite structures to rescue impoverished and oppressed people
  • outlawing unions and other such organizations that challenge the status quo
  • moving past any interest in the public good – everything is about the individual and his and her climb above others

For more information check this or this.

Of these, privatization and decreases in public funding have especially important consequences for education. (Have you noticed that essentially every college and university has a linked private foundation? Such foundations would not be necessary if our society provided full funding to its future and enrichment.) Institutions of higher education across the nation have received less and less funding for decades. Given the expensive of education, federal loans, student aid, and scholarships have come to play an essential role.

Here I want to articulate some thoughts that have been on my mind, namely that scholarships are violent. 

To begin, it’s worth stating that scholarships are a perfect example of neoliberalism in action. For example: an organization collects money from wealthy benefactors and in turn redistributes this money to select individuals in the form of a tuition scholarship. This is a process necessary only because of neoliberalism. This private-sector-function could and should be done by the government. The government could do this much more efficiently, cheaply, and equitably. Every one (notice that it is two words?) could be provided a “free” education. Governments outside of the United States do this and have done this. Moreover, governments outside of the United States even provide basic incomes to college students. 

Scholarships are violent, then, because not every one gets one. Scholarships take time that the people who need such assistant most might really not have. 

Violence also occurs when people say, “all you have to do is find them and apply,” “hundreds of scholarships go unclaimed.” From all that I have seen and heard, the belief that “scholarships go unclaimed” is on par with “fake news.” Maybe not many apply, but if anything, scholarships are far too hard to find and not available to meet full demand.

Violence occurs because scholarships generally do not cover the full costs of tuition and fees and books and computers and food and transportation and incidental fees and medications and so much more.

Violence occurs yet again when people say “work and go to school at the same time.” Any amount of working for the 98% is not enough to pay for college in the 2010s.

On the other side, even recipients of scholarships are victims of violence in that no one explains that scholarships are a manifestation of a specific ideology (i.e., neoliberalism) generally unique to the United States (when talking about so-called “First World Countries”). Additionally, recipients seldom understand that they are one of the “lucky ones” because of luck, privilege, and other factors.

And there is the added factor that neoliberalism greatly complicates the value of and rewards of receiving college degrees because of its violent reliance on “workers,” on workers who lack any kind of protection, who are aching and starving.

(Added 5-12-2020, as Dr. Sara Goldrich-Rab points out, scholarships also often require students to “perform their poverty.”)

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda