The Financialization of Higher Education, How Progressives Win, and Rectifying Employer Power

April 20, 2018

The Roosevelt Rundown is an email series featuring the Roosevelt Institute’s top 5 stories of the week.

1. The Financialization of Higher Education

Public universities and colleges are increasingly acting as financial corporations instead of institutions providing a public good. Through a case study of Michigan State University, Roosevelt’s Aman Banerji and Network chapter members Brigid Kennedy and Ademali Sengal examine the increasing influence of financial actors in higher education. Mic’s James Dennin reports on the authors’ findings, including the fact that risky investments have cost the university about $493.6 million—enough to cover tuition for just over 20,000 in-state students for one year. Until more college and university leadership prioritizes the needs of students over profits, higher education’s role as a source of economic mobility will continue to decline.

2. How Progressives Win

President Trump dominates most conversations these days, especially when it comes to electoral strategy. Roosevelt Forward President and CEO Felicia Wong has teamed up with leading progressives to launch Navigator Research, an initiative aimed at winning public policy debates. As reported by CNN, the debut report finds that voters are receptive to messaging that elevates the fact that there are “Americans at the top of the pyramid who are benefiting the most while regular Americans are not,” said Jefrey Pollock, President of Global Strategy Group. If progressives can make clear that the economy only works for the few and offer credible solutions to change that, we’ll come out strong in the months to come and beyond.

3. Rectifying Employer Power

What is “labor market monopsony,” and how does it hold workers back? In a new issue brief, Roosevelt Research Director Marshall Steinbaum outlines why workers are increasingly powerless in today’s economy. Current antitrust policy ignores anti-competitive behavior in the labor market, giving employers the discretion to set wages and working conditions on their own terms—without the fear that workers could check their power. Steinbaum reiterates this crucial point in The New Republic: “In general, monopsony power on the part of employers makes jobs scarce, whether employers’ power derives from concentration or some other source.” Renewed antitrust enforcement alone cannot correct this, but it is an important tool in undoing outsized employer power.

4. A Better Social Contract

Roosevelt Program Director Rakeen Mabud was on Future City this week for NPR. She discusses a universal basic income (UBI) and how progressives can rewrite America’s social contract so that it works for us all. Because the wealthy few still hold a lot of power in today’s economy and society, a UBI cannot rebalance power on its own. But it’s still a big idea that can move us forward, says Mabud: “We need to think a lot about the broader context in which policy reforms like UBI fit and how we can ensure that not only are people given the means to live a dignified life but that the economic system that they’re operating in is fair and just, as well.”

5. An Inclusive Labor Movement

The Next System’s Adam Simpson spoke with Roosevelt Fellow Dorian Warren this week about moving towards an inclusive labor movement in the 21st century. From protecting immigrant rights to establishing economic security for black Americans, unions play a crucial role in fighting inequality and upholding our democracy overall. “The places that have less inequality have stronger labor movements. The places with more economic and social mobility, stronger labor movements,” argues Warren. Recent waves of union activism, including the teachers’ strikes in states across the country, remind us that collective action is a powerful tool. If organizers can make the movement intersectional, the push for equality and justice for all will be unstoppable.

What We’re Reading

The Roosevelt Institute mourns the loss of corporate law scholar Lynn A. Stout, a guiding light and a leader for economic equality who worked closely with many on our team. This week, we’re revisiting an excellent NYT piece on Lynn’s work. “Now, with so much at stake and so many possibilities for real change, the world need[s] to carry forward Lynn’s vision,” said Roosevelt’s Felicia Wong. Roosevelt Fellow Susan R. Holmberg shared her thoughts, as well: “What a devastating loss of an incredibly generous teacher and human being. She has led the charge against shareholder-first capitalism and it’s going to be so much harder without her.”


Join the Roosevelt Institute on Thursday, May 10th, for a Big Ideas evening event. Roosevelt Fellow and political scientist Todd N. Tucker and TIME Magazine’s Haley Edwards will lead a conversation on Tucker’s new book, Judge Knot, and the status of trade policy in today’s chaotic global landscape. Doors open at 5:00 PM. RSVP today.