Author Meets Critics: Tressie McMillan Cottom on Lower Ed

Author Meets Critics: Tressie McMillan Cottom on Lower Ed

May 8, 2017

Tressie McMillan Cottom wearing a blue striped shirt and grey skirt next to her book Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

Ideas on Fire and Cathy Hannabach are organizing this Author Meets Critics session at the 2017 Cultural Studies Association conference. We’d love to see you there!

Tressie McMillan Cottom

in conversation with Abigail Boggs and Nick Mitchell

an Author Meets Critics session

When: May 26, 2017. 10:30–12:00 pm

Where: Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Participants: Tressie McMillan Cottom (featured author), Abigail Boggs (discussant), Nick Mitchell (discussant), and Cathy Hannabach (session chair)

About Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. These schools have been around just as long as their bucolic not-for-profit counterparts, yet shockingly little is known about why they have expanded so rapidly in recent years—during the so-called Wall Street era of for-profit colleges.

In Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (The New Press, 2017), Tressie McMillan Cottom—a bold and rising public scholar, herself once a recruiter at two for-profit colleges—expertly parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show precisely how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today.

McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. And she doesn’t stop there.

With sharp insight and deliberate acumen, McMillan Cottom delivers a comprehensive view of postsecondary for-profit education by illuminating the experiences of the everyday people behind the shareholder earnings, congressional battles, and student debt disasters. The relatable human stories in Lower Ed—from mothers struggling to pay for beauty school to working class guys seeking “good jobs” to accomplished professionals pursuing doctoral degrees—illustrate that the growth of for-profit colleges is inextricably linked to larger questions of race, gender, work, and the promise of opportunity in America.

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.

About Tressie McMillan Cottom

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and faculty associate with Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

Her research on higher education, work and technological change in the new economy has been supported by the Microsoft Research Network’s Social Media Collective, The Kresge Foundation, the American Educational Research Association and the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.

She has published on race/class/gender, education, and technology in the new economy.

She is the author of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (The New Press, 2017). The New York Times called Lower Ed the “best book yet on the complex lives and choices of for-profit college students.”

McMillan Cottom is also co-editor of two academic books: Digital Sociologies (2016, Policy Press) and For Profit Universities: The Shifting Landscape of Marketized Higher Education (2017, Palgrave MacMillan).

She speaks extensively, including recent invitations to the White House, South Africa, New Zealand, and Italy. Her public scholarship has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR’s Fresh Air, the Daily Show, Slate, and the Atlantic to name a few.

She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in race, theory and digital sociology.

About Abigail Huston Boggs

Abigail Huston Boggs is an assistant professor of sociology at Wesleyan University.

She is a scholar of feminist and queer studies with a focus on the transnational dimensions of the contemporary United States university.

Abigail is currently revising her first book manuscript, American Futures: International Students and the US University, which provides a critical genealogy of the figure of the international student in university policy, federal immigration law, and US popular culture.

Her writing has appeared in the Barnard Center for Research and Women’s Scholar and the Feminist and American Quarterly, as well as the the edited collection Mobile Desires: The Politics and Erotics of Mobility Justice.

She has served on the steering committee for the Five College Center for Research on Women and the American Studies Association’s Program Committee.

About Nick Mitchell

Nick Mitchell is an assistant professor in the Department of Feminist Studies and the Program in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Nick has previously worked in the Department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley and in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside.

Writing on the social arrangements of knowledge and the roles of knowledge in shaping social worlds, Nick’s recent writings have appeared in Critical Ethnic Studies, Feminist Formations, Signs, and The Abolitionist.

Nick is currently writing two books. The first, Disciplinary Matters: Black Studies, Women’s Studies, and the Neoliberal University, accounts for how black studies and women’s studies grew with and against each other, and how that growth prefigured the university we work in today.

The second book, The University, in Theory: Essays on Institutionalized Knowledge, argues that the university’s institutional geography has its presence not only in campus cartography, but also in the habit-structures that make even the most sophisticated knowledge production appear most at home.

You can find Nick on Twitter at @touchfaith.

About Cathy Hannabach

Cathy Hannabach is the president of Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome books, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

She also hosts the Imagine Otherwise podcast, which highlights the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds.

Cathy is also the founder and director of the Grad School Rockstars community, which help smart, progressive, interdisciplinary scholars who struggle with the nuts and bolts of how to turn that intelligence and inspiration into tangible, effective, and repeated work.

Cathy is the author of Blood Cultures: Medicine, Media, and Militarisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), which traces the cultural history of blood as it both enabled twentieth-century US imperialism and was creatively transformed by feminist, anticolonial, anticapitalist, and queer artists and activists, and Book Marketing for Academics (Ideas on Fire, 2016), which teaches you how to harness your resources, skills, and time to build your author platform and get the word out about your new book.

She currently serves on the Cultural Studies Association Executive Board and Governing Board.

You can find Cathy on Twitter at @channabach, and find Ideas on Fire on Twitter @ideasonfirephd and on Instagram at @ideasonfirephd.

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