Skip to comments.Bursting the University Bubble
Posted on 01/18/2013 7:30:27 AM PST by Kaslin
The last of the college applications have been rewritten, tweaked and polished, and at last entrusted to the tender mercies of the U.S. Mail or the Internet. Fretting over deadlines morphs into waiting, and yearning, wishing and praying for coveted letters of acceptance. This is the annual crisis in thousands of homes with ambitious high school seniors -- the high school seniors and their parents who still believe that college is the route to the American Dream.
But wait. While they play the conventional game of aspiration, certain scholars and economists, and hundreds of thousands of "concerned citizens" have initiated a different debate, and the debate is growing.
They're talking about the changes in university life and whether we should continue up the garden path worn bare over the decades. The debate is over the "higher education bubble," a phrase popularized by Glenn Reynolds, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Tennessee, who compares what's happening in higher education to what happened when housing became a feverish exercise in speculation.
"Bubbles form when too many people expect values to go up forever," Reynolds says. "Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already where education is concerned." With so much fat in the system the knowledge protein may not be enough to produce the intellectual muscle needed for a prosperous life in the 21st century. Like fast food and high-energy drinks, empty calories offer only temporary highs.
"The college presidents with their $1 million-plus salaries and bloated administrative staffs, the whole system of tenure has turned out to be as much a recipe for intellectual conformity as it is a fiscal nightmare," observes the New Criterion, a magazine that closely follows the politicization of the university.
In the decade after 2001, the number of administrators grew 50 times faster than the number of instructors, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A decline in the hours spent in teaching by tenured professors coincides with sharply increasing tuition fees to pay for luxury dorms, dining halls and gyms that have little to do with actual learning but everything to do with bulking up the academic bureaucracy.
With tightening family budgets, the high debt that accompanies students to college and an increasing public reckoning of diminishing value, college becomes a risky investment. Hundreds of parents are concluding that it may not be worth it.
Moody's Investors Service, the credit rating firm, finds that students are "increasingly attending more affordable community colleges, studying part time or electing to enter the workforce without the benefit of a college education." Total student debt now approaches a trillion dollars.
That's the bad news. The good news is that new technology offers less expensive access to information, providing quality goods at lower cost.
In prophesying the end of the university as we know it, Nathan Harden, author of "Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad," finds a silver lining in the crisis, an innovative challenge that goes beyond avoiding the pitfalls in the long title of his book.
Students seeking knowledge could pay a fraction of what they do now to get an education, often a better education, as streaming videos replace live lectures, and professors and students employ the Internet to exchange papers and exams, and join in conversations over the coursework.
"If a faster, cheaper way of sharing information emerges, history shows us that it will quickly supplant what came before," writes Harden in American Interest magazine.
Textbooks are already less expensive in the ebook edition. Students can read out-of-copyright books free on the Internet's Project Gutenberg. If the best professors and universities participate, the virtual classroom can reach millions of students. When computer-guided learning is combined with traditional classroom discussion, students learn faster. High tech plus human contact forges a powerful union.
There are obstacles aplenty to improving higher education for less money, but the trends inspire optimism. One professor of computer science at Stanford discovered he could reach as many online students in one year as it would take 250 years in a college classroom. Harvard and MIT now offer a credentialed certificate for students who complete their online courses and can show a mastery of the material.
The monks who salvaged the classics, recording them with painful diligence on papyrus, nevertheless lost their jobs with Johannes Gutenberg's invention of moveable type. If there's a phoenix to rise from the ashes of university excess, then bandwidth, RAM and gigabytes must assist the flight.
When fleet-footed Hermes is reincarnated as a courier of fast-forward high tech, the university bubble may burst in many directions, accelerating the delivery of information.
There's a caution (as there always is). The speed with which information is delivered has little to do with the achievement of wisdom. As the Bard would say, "Aye, there's the rub."
I work at a community college myself, and I think some of the bubble nonsense is even starting to come there. There has been an alarming increase in the staffing of worthless drones. When I started there were directors, VPs, and deans.
Now we have added assistant directors, assistant VPs, and assistant deans. The number of students and the number of classes offered has not changed. However for some reason there needs to be more useless bureaucrats to run the place. More meetings, more rules, more all staff emails all pushed out by the worthless people who have to find some way to justify their existence.
Of course these drones don’t come free, and thus what ought to be dirt cheap tuition isn’t as dirt cheap as it once was, and the halls are filled with foreign students allowed in because we can sucker full tuition out of them.
I’m really curious to see what happens when this bubble pops. I can say I don’t see the community colleges being immune anymore.
“Race and Resistance Studies”
Weary of the dark side of the Information Age--one refreshes in its bright side!
The groupthink delusions of the entreanched university system is circumvented by alternative information.
I went to the community college and the state university--couldn't afford to do anything else. Ivy League? Duke? Stanford? UCLA? Out of the question!
By age 40, I was a millionaire. A multimillionaire by 43. I also set up a college scholarship program through the local community college for people who couldn't afford anything else.
When I finally Made the Bigtime--thrown with graduates of elite institutions--I rose to the top! I had an excellent education!
It's available everywhere to everybody. The man who comes to fix the sink knows all about dinosaurs and astrophysics; he saw it on TV last night. And afterward he watched I, Claudius.
The Information Age offers many threats--to Us--but also to Them. There is much that threatens the enemies of freedom, truth, and everything else that is good.
Everything has a dark side--but everything has a bright side too. And there are more of Us than there are of Them.
I work for a Community College here in Florida and I see the same things too....bloated bureaucracy, “Peace and Justice Studies” (Hating Jewish People Studies), and useless non productive positions. The enrollment isstarting to decline also. Only thing saving the comm. college system in FL are the Bachelor degree programs that the 4-year schools are dropping, which the Comm. Colleges are picking up
Yeah, we have a Women’s Studies department (though admittedly it is not new). Who the heck got the idea that such drivel was needed at a community college? I mean as worthless as a BA in Women’s Studies would be, how about an AA?
At one college tour, my husband and daughter questioned some of the silly required classes that had nothing to do with my daughter’s major and were given the ‘but it broadens your mind and exposes you to so much more’ speech. In talking some more, they asked my husband what he wanted out of his daughter’s college education. He said ‘I would like it to be reasonably priced and when she graduates she can get a job in her field that pays enough to be worth the cost of the education and that she can support herself with.” They looked at him like he had three heads. My husband said it was obvious that no one else ever dares to ask these questions or have these expectations and the colleges are aghast when people do.
One thing I really like about our community colleges in Florida is the Dual Credit or Dual Enrollment opportunities. My kid graduated high school and had his AA (plus had 18 extra hours toward his major at a state U) at the same time.
Back when we were part of it, there were no restrictions, so he attended starting in 10th grade through 12th...didn’t ever set foot in a regular high school.
What a great program it is, although I’ve heard there have been some changes.
I’m an adjunct professor at a local community college. I teach core humanities, specifically this semester, American History and Constitutional Change. Every student has to take these courses to fulfill their constitutional requirement. I was informed the other day that one of my classes might be cancelled for lack of enrollment. Meanwhile the fulltime chair was complaining to me that his “Chinese Culture” class was also being considered for cancellation....cry me a river, the Asian population where I live is about 2%...