The Higher-Ed Bubble

Talk of the “higher-education bubble” seems to be increasing. This short article from a North Carolina-based think tank  pretty well sums it up:

Like the nation’s housing bubble, which eventually burst, the college bubble is caused by a number of factors. But the biggest force is, as my colleague George Leef has often pointed out, the overselling of higher education. The housing bubble was created, at least in part, by the conviction that everyone ought to own a home; the college bubble is occurring because so many peoplebelieve that everyone ought to attend college.

It’s depressing because so many people whom I know are employed in higher education, want to be so employed, or are connected with it, such as through academic publishing.

Speaking of the United States, what is the figure for entering freshmen who actually complete a bachelor’s degree in a generous six years? Under 50 percent, right?

Yet every high-school guidance counselor tells kids that even if they take on a pile of debt to get a degree, they will earn it all back and more. Not always true.

I don’t think making university education dramatically cheaper is the answer either. Some countries do — and then they end up with large numbers of young people who are now “above” working with their hands.

So they get jobs in bloated government bureaucracies, sit around drinking tea and soliciting bribes — or they emigrate.

(I’ve heard enough horror stories from the international students, of whom my university has quite a few.)

After decades of growth, starting post-World War Two when university education was subsidized for returning servicemen, then when the Baby Boom went to college (1960s-1970s), and then the “bubble” years following those,  it is really hard to think that higher education might be contracting.

But it might. And we have to have some response to that, right?

2 Comments

  1. Robert Mathiesen says:

    From the vantage-point of a member of the faculty of an ivy-league university since 1967, and the first ever in my family to earn a higher degree, this looks right on target to me.

    There is no recognition of the problem, so far as I can see, at any ivy-league university. The prevailing attitude seems to be roughly as follows [some of this is almost verbatim from conversations I have had with colleagues]:

    “Well, if some other university, or some department of a university, has trouble placing its [ever more numerous] graduates in elite positions, then that just proves it wasn’t a truly high-quality university or department to begin with, because, you know, Bob, people of true quality will always find their places in the sun. Nature itself is designed to reward people like us [?!]. As for the others, well, we really don’t want them anywhere in our world, do we, Bob?” [And what do you mean by "us," Kemo Sabe?]

    Hoo boy, are we all in for a rude awakening! And soon, I think.

  2. Pitch313 says:

    I think that the economy would lose jobs no matter if the potential workforce is college-educated or hardly educated at all. So no reason to seek college education for the sake of a legendary better job.

    Politically, I think that masses of unemployed probably pose some threat to stability and order, regardless of their education status. Although maybe better educated rebellious masses can operate more sophisticated weapons systems…

    I used to think that college education held rewards in and of itself. But maybe those are not worth $100K in debt.

    OK! Surplus colleges. Let’s do away with ‘em!

    All your degree are belong to us!