After the housing collapse, and the state- and local-government crisis, the indebted-student/broke-college meltdown seems next.
During the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s, traditionalists in the arts and humanities made the argument that the race/class/gender industry that gave us classes like “Queering the Postmodern Text” or “Constructing Manhood in a Post-National World” did not prepare the student to think, talk, or write in an inductive, disinterested fashion, much less to become familiar with great works of literature or art. Be that as it may, the campus wars have now mostly left the realm of curriculum and ideology and have become financial. Strapped parents and students, with diminishing public- and private-scholarship funds and ballooning student loans, simply can no longer afford the traditional four-year college education paradigm, whose spiraling costs reflected huge increases in administrative staff, expanded but mostly irrelevant or peripheral courses, generous compensation, and new social and culture responsibilities (called “Centers for. . .”) that went well beyond a college’s traditional mission to educate students.
Apart from Ivy League–like brand-name schools whose arts and humanities/social-science degrees are not so much proof of education as social stamps to the fast-track good life, we are going to see either colleges cut back their offerings, faculties, and administrative staffs, and go back to what they used to do — or see still more of the new model in which strapped students go first to 2-year junior colleges, or enroll exclusively online, or become certified in technical expertise from for-profit trade schools that don’t bother to budget for an Assistant Provost for Diversity Affairs or an Asian American and Pacific Islander Resource Center.