Neoliberalism and STEM in Higher Education: An Institutional Ethnography

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:42
Oral Presentation
Laura PARSON, Auburn University, USA
In this Institutional Ethnography I explored the neoliberal climate in STEM in higher education. Specifically I asked how STEM institutional practices were related to the institutional practices of higher education as an institution. Data collection and analysis focused on how the interface between undergraduate women and STEM education was organized as a matter of everyday encounters between students, faculty, and administration through exploration of their experiences inside and outside the classroom. This exploration began with in-depth interviews of female undergraduate STEM students and extended, as the institutional processes shaping their experiences were identified, to texts that mediated these processes such as institutional policies, state policy, accreditation requirements, and ranking organization metrics. Document analysis revealed that the discourses, goals, and assessments of external organizations including the state governing body, ranking organizations, and accrediting organization requirements were reflected in institutional policies. Characteristic of a neoliberal policy climate, findings revealed a policy map that illustrated how neoliberal goals of increased profit, student performance, faculty research, and enrollment are overseen by lines of accountability. The hierarchy created by neoliberal policies and assessment procedures led to a multi-layered and often complicated policy map: departments were accountable to the college and institution; the college was accountable to the institution; the institution was accountable to the governing board, and the accrediting body, and also expected to meet the student as consumer’s needs, represented by the ranking organizations. These findings suggest that there is an opportunity create clearly measurable metrics related to diversity and other outcomes that suggest an improved condition for women if those initiatives are implemented by ranking organizations, accreditors, and the governing body.