A Few Sunday Thoughts On The Higher Ed Bubble

Walter Russell Mead-‘The Higher Ed Bubble Is Very, Very Real

‘The bubble is something else: high demand for education has combined with an inefficient guild structure (guilds were once the dominant form of economic organization in everything from carpentry to textile weaving; today only a handful survive, mostly in the learned professions) and government price subsidies to create an unsustainable method of service delivery.’

There are a few ways of thinking about what may be in store for higher education.

1.  The old media/new media analogy and technological dislocation-Basically, individuals can have access to much of the college library, and beyond, on a handheld device for a few hundred dollars.  What to do with this access and that knowledge, as well as how and what to think about it will still require pedagogy, rigor, the passing on of knowledge and method, grades, well-ordered minds, time and money.  Information and knowledge aren’t “free”, of course, either for the producers of that knowledge individually nor as members of groups and institutions.  It’s not free ultimately for the technology itself and the curators and gatekeepers of the technology, but it’s much cheaper and easily accessible than before.

How can we deliver an education more efficiently?

The current curators and gatekeepers in our universities and guild structures will feel increasing pressure (and I think many are finding new opportunities) from this technological dislocation.  Professors (publish or perish!) now have greater real time connections with known and previously unknown colleagues, amateurs around the world, past research and thinkers, as well as opportunities to engage students in the classroom.  For motivated students, there will be a chance to get more of what they pay for, targeting their studies and getting more feedback from fellow students, perhaps professors, and other materials.  They can be graded on what they’ve learned more effectively.  It’s a delivery issue.

The old media’s control as gatekeepers and curators of public opinion has been undermined with so much information out there.  They often don’t lead the discussion, but find themselves racing to keep up with it (including cat videos and celebrity gossip).  It’s a delivery issue, and they’ve had to organize their business models around this new marketplace, and the ad revenue models aren’t working like they used to.  Some have got a good thing going and kept it going, while others went down rat holes under bad leadership and disappeared.  Most resisted the change.  All have had to adapt and think hard about what it’s most important to take with them and their duty to communities of readers if for no other reason than to generate revenue, by continuing to shape public opinion.

It’s still an industry in flux.

The housing bubble/higher ed bubble analogy-I happen to believe that when you strip the cost of an education from the consumers of that education, you tend get more irresponsibility on both sides.  There’s a large psychological buy-in that everyone needs to go to college, just like everyone needed to own a home.  It represents some of what is best about America, but when you’ve propped up that dream on unsustainable debt levels, well, it’s unsustainable.

A lot of people are borrowing money they can’t afford to go to college.  It won’t pay off for all of them, especially in this economy, and the debt is non-dischargeable.  Many people don’t even know why they’re in college or aren’t particularly committed to getting an education.  Many people are leaving high school unprepared, and sometimes college.  Colleges have gotten locked into competitive feedback loops to attract students with amenities, and students have gotten locked into competitive feedback loops amongst themselves to get into the best colleges.

No one wants to be left behind.

It might be worthwhile to think again about the core-educational mission.

Related On This Site: Repost: Mark Cuban From His Blog: ‘The Coming Meltdown in College Education & Why The Economy Won’t Get Better Any Time Soon’…From The New Criterion: ‘Higher Ed: An Obituary’,,,Ron Unz At The American Conservative: ‘The Myth Of American Meritocracy’

 Should you get a college degree?  Yes, you probably should, but understand there are many entrenched interests who don’t always have your interests in mind:  Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?…Charles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational Romanticism

The libertarian angle, getting smart, ambitious people off of the degree treadmill:  From The American Interest: Francis Fukuyama Interviews Peter Thiel-’A Conversation With Peter Thiel’ I think it’s going too far, trying to apply libertarian economics onto education, but Milton Friedman on Education is thought-provoking.

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Allan Bloom had in mind the idea of a true liberal arts education: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

From The New Criterion: ‘Higher Ed: An Obituary’

Full piece here.

Well, universities are the longest running institutions in the Western World, so they’re not dead:

‘Two related but separate issues revolve around the inner metabolism of higher education, in particular its astronomical and still escalating costs and—an even bigger reality—the wave of technological innovation that is poised to break over the entire institution of higher education like a tsunami.’

Much like the housing market was sitting atop unsustainable debt levels and questionable lending practices underwritten by our government, so too may be our universities by sitting upon unsustainable debt levels and questionable lending practices, underwritten by our government.  The dream of everybody owning a home and everybody going to college and taking out loans to do so is not sustainable, and certainly not in our current economy.  The ground has shifted beneath our feet, and our politics is failing to provide decent solutions.

Technology, however, is going to provide many more solutions.

There are also other issues ideological.  We’ve seen the rise of the 60’s generation through our universities, the rise of excessive egalitarianism, feminism, and the growth of questionable fields that mostly end with ‘studies.’  Continental philosophies have made deep inroads into higher ed, and into our culture.  I believe they can unnecessarily politicize and narrow higher ed and shortchange students.

We’ve also seen more recently the rise of the administrators, who are often overseeing budgets and hiring, and who can easily get in the way of what I would define as the core educational mission:

‘Writing in the current issue of The American Interest, Nathan Harden puts it dramatically but not hyperbolically: “The End of the University As We Know It.” In the space of a few decades, Harden writes, “half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist.”’

Add to that a deeply ailing K-12 public education system, and we’ve got some serious change coming our way.

Many more people will be learning online, and without the brick and mortar classrooms and dorms.  The Ivies will do fine but they are also unrolling their own online learning programs to stay ahead of the curve.

Related On This Site: Should you get a college degree?:  Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?…Charles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational Romanticism

The libertarian angle, getting smart, ambitious people off of the degree treadmill:  From The American Interest: Francis Fukuyama Interviews Peter Thiel-’A Conversation With Peter Thiel’ I think it’s going too far, trying to apply libertarian economics onto education, but Milton Friedman on Education is thought-provoking.

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be:  Let’s be like Europe! A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Nothing that Allan Bloom didn’t point out in the Closing Of The American Mind, at least with regard to a true liberal arts education: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Perhaps some of the problem is due to the ideological interests holing up at our universities; at least in the liberal arts: Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?From The Harvard Educational Review-