The Big Change on Campus

Having left a career in higher education about 14 years ago, the biggest change I notice when I’m back on campus isn’t the technology (although that change is indeed impressive).  Rather it is the rampant commercialization of campus life.  It seems to have gotten so bad that even the New York Times has noticed:

Corporations have been pitching college students for decades on products from cars to credit cards. But what is happening on campuses today is without rival, in terms of commercializing everyday college life.

Companies from Microsoft on down are increasingly seeking out the big men and women on campus to influence their peers. The students most in demand are those who are popular — ones involved in athletics, music, fraternities or sororities. Thousands of Facebook friends help, too. What companies want are students with inside knowledge of school traditions and campus hotspots. In short, they want students with the cred to make brands seem cool, in ways that a TV or magazine ad never could.

You can see a related video here.  And this isn’t even the worst of it.  That distinction may be reserved for the plethora of message boards scattered throughout campuses today each one offering 24/7 commercials to passersby.  There was a time when (whether the instruction was good, bad or indifferent), just the fact of being on a college campus removed a student from the trappings of a consumer society.

That small respite provided some opportunities for those students that so chose to assess the state of that society one step removed from the constant barrage of messages.   The closing of that gap by today’s ubiquitous advertisements may damage the educational experience more than we can imagine.

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