Peter Wood has written an excellent, synoptic essay on the prospect of a higher education “bubble,” and I commend it to all Phi Beta Cons readers.
Peter covers the arguments raised by the establishment against the idea that higher ed has been oversold — that its enormous costs are warranted, that getting a college degree is still a good investment, that the nation needs to increase the number of people getting college degrees to keep up internationally, and that the system will easily adjust to the changed circumstances in which if now finds itself — and gives solid refutations to each. I wonder if any of the people who keep advancing the notion that the nation should “invest” more resources in higher education will take the essay seriously. Overwhelmingly, they have either ignored or misrepresented the case against them in the past.
As Peter’s organization, the National Association of Scholars, has amply documented, one of the great new fads on college campuses is “sustainability.” The trouble is that no one is asking about the sustainability of higher education if it stays on its current course of rising cost but declining educational value.
But if all he says is true, why is it the case that college enrollments remain high? The answer Peter gives is this: custom. Over the decades, it has become a custom for most parents to put their children into college if at all possible. The higher-ed system is coasting along on that custom, but it can’t last forever.