Peter Wood has written arguably the definitive article on the higher-education bubble thus far. His essay in the May/June issue of Society (subscription required) chronicles how we got here: mission creep, capture, and public-choice theory. He links to Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift and observes that their findings — that college students on the whole gain little intellectually — illustrate what happens when higher education goes chasing after everything under the sun except the one thing it should be chasing after:
We are dealing with an institution that has, to an extraordinary degree, simply forgotten why it exists in the first place. Peripheral matters are pursued with vigor and often emotional cathexis (“diversity,” “sustainability”) while central and once abiding concerns become mere husks of themselves — old books gathering dust in unused libraries.
The fundamental reason higher education is faltering, he argues, is that colleges and universities have abandoned their real purposes.