The Higher Education Bubble
| Peter Klein |
Will it be the next to burst? Yes, say Joseph Marr Cronin and Howard E. Horton. “Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering.” Of course it is, which explains the unbridled hostility of the higher-ed establishment toward alternative organizational models. Adds Mark Taylor:
Make no mistake about it, education is big business and, like other big businesses, it is in big trouble. What people outside the education bubble don’t realize and people inside won’t admit is that many colleges and universities are in the same position that major banks and financial institutions are: their assets (endowments down 30-40 percent this year) are plummeting, their liabilities (debts) are growing, most of their costs are fixed and rising, and their income (return on investments, support from government and private donations, etc.) is falling.
These commentators do not, however, speculate on root causes. There’s no doubt the traditional model for producing higher education is grossly inefficient and that there’s been tremendous overinvestment in facilities and staff (malinvestment, in Austrian lingo) over many decades. But why, and why now? One hypothesis is that the democratization of higher education that began in the 1960s not only increased enrolments, but created a wedge between expectations of faculty (we’re here to create and disseminate knowledge and to challenge, engage, and enlighten our students — in the humanities, to teach them political slogans) and those of students (we’re here to party, find mates, and prepare for the job market). Another possibility is that political correctness has distorted the curriculum, creating large and well-funded departments in ethnic studies and postmodern literature with high overhead and few students, leaving insufficient resources for, and interest in, traditional subjects like math and history. What are some other hypotheses? (Thanks to Dennis Lubahn for the pointers.)