Dicta

The home of “things said” by the National Association of Scholars.

Meet Our New Research Associate

Peter Wood

Neetu Arnold is joining the NAS staff as our research associate for a new project on student debt and administrative growth. 

How Nine Universities Pander to Campus Radicals

Peter Wood

Peter gives the best examples of where and how university administrations are rolling over to campus radicals. 

Is College For Everyone?

Peter Wood

Doubts about the possibilities of higher education are becoming non-partisan.

UConn Coddling Students

Jay Bergman

NAS board member, Jay Bergman, writes to the President of the University of Connecticut. 

What the Tax-Reform Law Could do to Higher Education

Peter Wood

The new tax-reform bill has the potential to reshape the landscape of higher education. 

How Data-Mining Hurts Higher Education

Peter Wood

The promises of data-mining in higher education are that we will end up with more students achieving degrees at lower cost, but the soft totalitarianism that will be required to achieve these gains is a high cost.

Welcome to My World

Jason Fertig

Jason Fertig writes on his first three months in the position of Faculty Senate Chair, where he has straddled the awkward fence between administration and faculty. 

Are College Degrees the New Taxi Medallions?

Rachelle Peterson

Much like taxi car medallions, college degrees are viewed as pricey but essential investments.

Causing the College Credentials Craze

George Leef

George Leef writes on the "credentials mania" and the effects of companies ruling out applicants who don't have college degrees.

The Liberal Arts Are in Trouble - Should We Celebrate?

Peter Wood

Minding the Campus holds a symposium on the question of whether the decline of the liberal arts is actually constructive. 

A Wolf at the Door of Academe

Peter Wood

With the looming presence of online alternatives and MOOCs, colleges and universities rethink their curricula. Ithaca College's president explains what he is doing to revive the education Ithaca provides.

The MOOC Demographic

Rachelle Peterson

MOOC students are often college degreed professionals, not the underprivileged assemblage that MOOCs intended to reach.  

The College Board's Irresponsible Cheerleading

George Leef

The new "Education Pays" report inflates the benefits of going to college, even as the college bubble begins to collapse. 

Our two bubbles: housing and college

George Leef

George Leef writes that the housing bubble and the college bubble both stemmed from an entitlement mentality fueled by government programs.

What Do MOOCs Cost?

Rachelle Peterson

MOOCs are often hailed as the cost-savers of higher ed, but it turns out they're rather expensive to make. 

Doubts, Deficits, Divestments, and Developments: A Higher Education Bubble Update

Ashley Thorne

CFOs lack confidence in their institutions' financial sustainability, Loyola University fails to enroll enough students to make budget, and the University of Wisconsin announces a "flexible option" for college credit.

Too Cool for School

Rachelle Peterson

Unschooling is popular, but should it be?

NAS President to Debate at AAUP Conference

Tessa Carter

Peter Wood will debate issues concerning higher ed at AAUP's Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., this Friday.

The Daily Show on Going to College

Jason Fertig

There's more than one way to scare kids straight. 

Disruptive Innovation or Distracting Technology?

Robert L. Jackson

Will “disruptive innovation” within higher education enable the market to close inefficient colleges and universities, while producing the best in content? Richard Vedder says yes.

Don't Worry Too Much About the Higher Ed Bubble

Peter Wood

Wood takes seriously the threats to higher education, but offers reason for some hope.  

American Higher Education: Is It in Crisis?

Richard Vedder

Vedder foresees big changes coming in American higher education.

The "Existential" Crisis in Higher Education

Glenn Ricketts

The president of Syracuse analyzes the existentialism of higher education's current predicament.

Aiming at the Suburbs and Hitting Higher Ed

Peter Wood

A new book describes Obama's anti-suburbs regulations. Peter Wood considers how these regulations may accelerate the bursting of the higher education bubble.

Helium, Part 2

Peter Wood

Peter Wood considers how the higher-education bubble could pop.

Universities Neglect Financial Sustainability

Ashley Thorne

Mission creep in higher education turns out to have some serious monetary consequences for individual institutions. A new study urges college and university leaders to get back to the core and stop trying to be an all-purpose operation.

The 12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising

Richard Vedder

NAS Board member Richard Vedder discusses the probable reasons for continually rising college costs.

Where the Job Growth Will Be

George Leef

Most of the job openings in the labor market in the next decade won't require college education.

Two Styles of Academic Leadership

Abraham H. Miller

Academia is not an environment conducive to good leadership, as illustrated by two extreme leadership styles.

Academic Questions Cited in New York Post

Ashley Thorne

The idea of a bubble in higher education as considered in NAS's journal is getting wider notice.

I Don't Usually Recommend Rap Videos....

George Leef

But here's a very pointed one about the student debt bubble, with many sad college grads appealing to Barack to save them.

Caveat Emptor

Glenn Ricketts

That's the gist of this piece in yesterday's Washington Post, at any rate. The writer argues, as others have done recently, that if you're in higher education for the money, watch out. It may well cost you a pile, but if you're counting on instant remunerative employment when you graduate, no soap. Check out consumer labels carefully before you buy, he advises, or you might discover too late that you've bought a pig-in-a-poke.

Another Graphic on the Higher Education Bubble

Ashley Thorne

The idea that the traditional college experience may be in jeopardy is catching on, as evidenced by the recent appearance of easy-to-read graphics illustrating the problem.

Graphic on the Higher Education Bubble

Ashley Thorne

In support of the claim that there is a "higher education bubble," an online publication gives us a creative display of the hard facts.

Let's All Go to College? Not So Fast

Glenn Ricketts

Retired Rutgers University sociologist, Jackson Toby, examines what role a large cohort of disappointed, unemployed college graduates may have played in driving the recent upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. 

Is Higher Ed on the Brink of Major Change?

George Leef

In the recent book by Clay Christensen and Henry Eyring, The Innovative University, the authors contend that many colleges and universities will be left in the dust unless they figure out how to adapt, much as companies have crumbled when innovative technologies hit their markets and they couldn't rapidly adjust to it.

Twenty-Six Year Olds in Diapers?

George Leef

David Bass of the John Locke Foundation argues that the mania for putting as many people as possible in college has given us 26 year-olds in diapers (figuratively speaking). 

Law Schools Getting Sued

George Leef

A large and growing number of law schools are being sued for misrepresenting data about the employment and earnings prospects of students who enroll. 

"Higher Education Bubble" AQ Issue in Print

Peter Wood

The fall 2011 issue of Academic Questions asks, "Is there a bubble in higher education?"

Cost Versus Enrollment Bubbles

Andrew Gillen

We should carefully consider why Americans

Too Much For Too Little

Peter Wood

NAS President Peter Wood offers observations on the diminishing value of a college degree.

Tipping Point: Student Loan Debt and the Higher Education Bubble

Peter Wood

How insupportable debt is making Americans ripe for cultural defection from college.

Doug French on the Higher Education Bubble

George Leef

Doug French, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute argues that much of the apparent increase in the “need” for people with college degrees was due to the growth of employment in government since 1990 and growth in the finance industry, fueled to a large extent by federal interventions to keep interest rates artificially low. French also disputes the notion, recently pushed by David Leonhardt of the New York Times, that college is a good investment even if you wind up washing dishes because you’ll enjoy an earnings boost.

Another Degree-less Individual Makes Good

George Leef

In today's Pope Center piece, Joe Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, writes about his unusual experience with the University of Chicago. Lots of courses and lots of learning, but no degree. Fortunately, he got into a field where the lack of college credential did not bar him from working with the skills and knowledge he had -- the think tank world.

Another Skeptic on the "Need" for More College Degrees

George Leef

In this Atlantic column, David Indiviglio argues that the "need" for college has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He understands that for many students, the value in the degree is only positional, indicating that they're better than individuals without the credential. If we reach the point where almost everyone has a BA, then it will be necessary for those who want to set themselves apart to obtain a more advanced degree. Of course, there will be institutions eager to sell them the credentials. In his book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning, Professor David Labaree nailed this point, writing, "As each level of education in turn gradually floods with a crowd of ambitious consumers, individuals have to keep seeking ever higher credentials in order to move a step ahead of the pack. In such a system, nobody wins. Consumers have to spend increasing amounts of time and money to gain additional credentials because the swelling number of credential holders keeps lowering the value of credentials at any given level....Employers keep raising the entry-level education requirements for particular jobs, but they still find that they have to provide extensive training before employees can carry out their work productively. At all levels, this is an enormously wasteful system."

No, the "College Could be a Waste of Time" Stories Aren't Always Wrong

George Leef

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I take issue with the piece Kevin Carey had published in The New Republic several weeks ago.

In essence, Carey’s argument is that college will nearly always prove to be a good investment because it has in the past and because skill levels across much of the workforce are rising. I dispute the first point by noting that the phenomenon of large number of college-credentialed people having to take work in fields that call for no academic training has been with us for decades. As for the second, there is no reason to believe that whatever skill increases may be needed throughout the labor force are such that people who have not been to college are incapable for mastering them. The military is a good example. The sophistication of the equipment, weaponry and otherwise, used in the military has been steadily increasing, but it trains its personnel — very few of whom have any college coursework — so that they have the skills needed.

Another Glaring Flaw in Leonhardt's Article

George Leef

There are many more flaws in his article. Here’s another that really bothered me.

One of the glaring weaknesses in the “College is good for everyone!” case is the mounting evidence that many students learn little or nothing. Leonhardt tries to escape that by noting the recent conclusion by Arum and Roksa that a large percentage of college students they sampled made scant academic gains, then writing, “But the margin of error was large enough that many more may have made progress.”

Yes, but it’s equally likely that the margin of error could go the other way and that “many more” may have been wasting their time and money. Leonhardt knows what “margin of error” means, but he’s writing an advocacy piece, so he evidently feels justified in slanting the data his way.

Then he tries to blow off the entire matter by writing, “The general skills that colleges teach, like discipline and persistence, may be more important that academics anyway.” Small problem here: there is no evidence that colleges are better at teaching discipline and persistence than they are at teaching about math, history, or how to write a good paragraph. Lots of students manifest the same aversion to work, to deadlines, to personal responsibility as seniors that they had as freshmen.

Fraud Up and Down Our Education System

George Leef

So argues Professor Herbert London in this Minding the Campus essay.  Starting from the earliest years, teachers (later professors) often pass along students who haven’t learned much just because it’s the easy and supposedly compassionate thing to do. Thus we wind up with kids in college who are barely literate and can’t do simple math.

Why? It’s because there is no penalty for acting that way. The money keeps flowing in and the teachers and professors keep their jobs despite the educational fraud.

More Options Needed for the Academic Middle

Jason Fertig

Jason Fertig comments on Other Ways to Win, a precursor to today's Academically Adrift that argues we need to recognize forms of success other than getting a college degree.

Deflating the Higher Ed Bubble -- A Scenario

George Leef

In this Minding the Campus essay, my Pope Center colleague Jane Shaw ruminates on a scenario in which the higher ed bubble substantially deflates.

The Bubble is Still Inflating

George Leef

In her Pope Center piece today, Jenna Ashley Robinson presents evidence that shows the higher education bubble is still inflating. The rising default rates, however, would seem to suggest that it's going to start deflating soon.

Missionally Adrift

Ashley Thorne

The fundamental reason higher education is faltering is that colleges and universities have simply forgotten why they exist in the first place.

Is Our Civilization a Bubble? Part II

Steve Balch

One remedy Steve Balch recommends to prevent us from forgetting the value of our civilization's principles and freedoms is to fortify our education system.

Is Our Civilization a Bubble? Part I

Steve Balch

Steve Balch describes characteristics of well-known bubbles such as the tech bubble and the housing bubble, and he suggests that American society itself could be headed for a bubble if we take our freedoms for granted.

Another Crack in the "College for Everyone" Dike

George Leef

Harvard's Pathways to Prosperity project challenges the conventional wisdom that the U.S. simply must process more young people through college, saying that for many young people, there are better options.

Jason Fertig Appears on Inside Academia TV

In an interview with Inside Academia this week, Jason Fertig speaks about credential inflation and the need for higher education reform.

The Principles of Scientific Education Management

David Clemens

The ed-blogosphere overflows with predictions of a “higher education bubble,” but I find no mention of one thing that epitomizes the whole sorry mess:  the Ed.D. For many Ph.Ds, the Ed.D. represents the ticket to the administrative high life.  The California State University (CSU) system has a more grandiose, if unintelligible, plan.

Series Asks "Should Liberal Arts Supporters Care About For-Profit Ed?"

Ashley Thorne

NAS president Peter Wood has written a four-part series considering the value of the for-profit higher education sector, and whether those who care about the liberal arts should also care about the fate of this besieged sector. If there is a higher education bubble, for-profits may outlive not-for-profits in the case of a burst. His series draws on a number of his personal encounters with the for-profit industry.

The College Debt Bubble on CNBC

Jason Fertig

A new documentary raises red flags about higher lending for higher learning in America.

Murray Sperber on Craig Brandon's The Five Year Party

George Leef

Professor Murray Sperber writes about Craig Brandon's The Five Year Party

Kaplan Job Cuts - First Indication of the Burst?

Ashley Thorne

Chicago Business reports Kaplan Higher Education’s announcement that it is cutting a total of about 770 jobs. This may be nothing, but it may also not be -- is this the first indication that the higher ed bubble is starting to burst? Guest post by Ed Cutting

A Victim of the Education Bubble

George Leef

Listen to this illuminating interview Peter Schiff did with a student who is $200,000 in debt for a sociology degree from Northeastern University. Schiff gets right at the root of the problem: government guaranteed student loans.

Forecast: Iridescent Drops of Nothingness

Peter Wood

Peter Wood predicts that online education, either rigorous or at “the level of a video game,” will become a standard feature of American college instruction.

Online Ed's Niche Role

David Clemens

Online education should serve as a home for orphaned liberal arts and "boutique" courses for motivated students.

Tuition Talks and a Voice of Reason at the SC Higher Education Summit

Christina Jeffrey

NAS board member Christina Jeffrey spoke on behalf of the NAS at the Summit. Here's her report on parents' and colleges' frustrations, the state governor's composure, and a bureaucrat's defensiveness.

The College Board Keeps Inflating the Bubble

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I take a look at "Education Pays 2010," the most recent paper from the College Board's Advocacy and Policy Center. It tries to deflect criticism from those of us who contend that higher education has been oversold and puts a big Smiley Face on the notion that going to college is good for just about everyone -- individually and as a country. The effort is not persuasive.

Lumina Foundation Pushes a Higher Ed Great Leap Forward

Ashley Thorne

Another report out this week is the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation's 116-page account of how far the U.S. must go to meet the Foundation's goal of "increasing the proportion of American adults with a college degree to 60 percent by 2025." There's been a lot of goal-setting of this kind lately. President Obama, the Carnegie Corporation, and the College Board have all set their own goals for higher education attainment in the next decade or so. The rationale is that we want America to be the most-educated nation in the world (right now we're eleventh or twelfth). But being the most-educated nation isn't likely to make us the best-educated nation. Here's why. (See especially "American Character, the Remix: How College is Shaping Us Now")

College Board Reports, "Education Pays," But Others Aren't Convinced

Ashley Thorne

This week the Chronicle of Higher Education reports a new study by the College Board that offers evidence that the more educated you are, the more money you're likely to earn over a lifetime. Quoted in the article are Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and Charles Miller, former chairman of the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education, who both raise some tough questions about the report's findings. Peter Wood also answered the hypothesis that a college degree is still the best investment in his recent article "The Bubble: Higher Education's Precarious Hold on Consumer Confidence."

Spending Too Much on Too Little: Peter Wood Assesses the Bubble

Ashley Thorne

Higher education could be the next bubble to burst, many commentators have observed. It has all the symptoms of the housing bubble, and once enough people realize they are paying too much for too little, they'll go elsewhere, and the giant college industry will collapse. But some say this won't happen. In a new article, "The Bubble: Higher Education's Precarious Hold on Consumer Confidence," Peter Wood responds to four arguments defending the status quo. Here's a condensed version of his arguments: 1. The High Prices Are Warranted Response: The add-ons are the product of a system that has grown estranged from its basic mission of educating students. 2. A College Degree is Still the Best Investment Response: All it would take for higher education’s bubble to pop would be a significant increase in the percent of students defecting to community colleges or online programs. 3. National Interest Requires We Maintain the System Response: There are more ways to educate people than the advocates of our current system realize. 4. This is a Temporary Situation;  Higher Ed Will Adjust Response: Campuses have enormous sunk costs and debts.  Changing their ways now will not wipe out those burdens. The biggest reason so many students still go to college is custom, Peter writes.  "Can the power of custom, the desire for status, and the fear of ridicule keep the vast majority of Americans on the treadmill, paying lofty sums for an education that typically is more fantasy than fact?" Perhaps for now, but the tipping point is coming.

The Bubble: Higher Education's Precarious Hold on Consumer Confidence

Peter Wood

Once enough people realize they are paying too much for too little, they'll go elsewhere, and the giant college industry will collapse. The tipping point is coming, and the status quo is getting harder to defend.

Comment from a Reader about Credential Inflation

George Leef

Your op-ed relating to credential inflation is on point.  Beyond college credential inflation there is another "credential" inflation virus that has infected the US.  It is the license or certification credential.  No longer are 10 to 20 years in a field enough for an individual's worth or contribution.  Individuals are now required to be certified or have credentials.  Certifications that go beyond passing the bar, CPA, MD etc.  Certifications such as black belt 6 sigma, AIPCS, PPM, CFA,  CIA, CMA, etc.....  Credentials that mean nothing more than the holder of the credential passed an exam.  Again business assigning magic powers to an individual with credentials versus real world experience.  It has created an entire industry on certification test prep, test taking etc.... while contributing nothing to the work environment. Even worse, relating to credential inflation, I have seen job ads, especially government job ad, that require a certain amount of real world experience, yet they also require college transcripts/grades regardless of whether the individual has been out of college for a period that makes transcripts/grades irrelevant. P.S.  My background is 15+ years in finance, operations and project management,  in manufacturing, hi-tech, telecom and cpg industries, complimented by an MBA/JD.

Liberals Begin to See the College "Bubble"

George Leef

Writing for Huffington Post, Anya Kamenetz compares the huge level of student loan debt to the housing bubble. I'm glad to see understanding that we have oversold college spreading, but Kamenetz misses the role of the government in the college bubble, just as leftist writers turned a blind eye to the role of the government in the housing bubble. There would have been no housing bubble if it hadn't been for federal policy pushing home-ownership as if it were a good investment for everyone and making unrealistically cheap loans available. Similarly, government officials, starting with Barack Obama, keep telling young Americans that they need to go to college (otherwise, they're letting not just themselves but the nation down, says BHO) and enabling even the most academically weak, disengaged students to get into college with financial assistance from Uncle Sam. Kamenetz makes it sound as though the bad actors are all in the for-profit sector: "Someone with experience in the for-profit college marketing business told me that the same online sales geniuses who used to work for mortgage brokers are now employed by for-profit colleges. Their business is the same: fill out the forms, get the money, consequences be damned. Will we stop them this time?" Ah, but you'll find lots of kids drowning in their student loan debts who went to public colleges and universities as well. Those schools are just as eager to lure in warm bodies to fill the dorms and school coffers, just as eager to keep them enrolled even if they are learning little, and just as eager to slap educational credentials on them and send them into a job world that many will find as hospitable as Antarctica. The trouble is not the profit motive; non-profit institutions are no less hungry for revenue than proprietary ones. The trouble is that government policy makes it easy for people to misjudge the ratio between costs and benefits, leading to a profusion of decisions that borrowers later regret. Letting students escape from their debts in bankruptcy, which Kamenetz favors, only deals with the symptoms. I say we should attack the underlying pathology.

My Critique of "Help Wanted" Part II

George Leef

Today's Pope Center piece is the second part of my critique of the recent paper from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. It focuses on the prevalent notion that much of the labor force in the future will demand workers with "higher skills" and that going to college is the only way for someone to acquire such skills. It's almost amazing that the authors of the paper never pause to consider the impact of credential inflation when they write about the increasing numbers of jobs that "require" a college education. Nor do they ever tell us exactly what knowledge an intelligent high school graduate is lacking that would make it impossible for him to learn and perform most of the jobs that are available.

A Ticking Time Bomb in Higher Education: Call Jack Bauer or Go Back to Sleep?

Jason Fertig

Is the higher ed status quo sustainable? What factors could trigger a bubble burst?

College Tuition vs. Home Prices vs. CPI...No Comment

Ashley Thorne

Chart: is college education the next bubble set to burst?

College Degree No Guarantee of Prosperity

George Leef

This piece in The Chronicle reveals what many higher ed critics of known for years -- getting a college degree is no guarantee of prosperity. In fact, many Americans with degrees live in poverty. Those who keep saying that the nation will get a huge productivity boost by putting more people through college ought to consider the possibility that we've already oversold higher ed. The glut of people with degrees who can't find jobs that pay even moderately well is good evidence that we have. Conversely, I wish I didn't have to wait days to get someone to work on my malfunctioning air conditioning here in hot and humid North Carolina.

Why College Education Is Becoming Obsolete

Ashley Thorne

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting opinion piece by Seth Godin called "The Coming Meltdown in Higher Education (as Seen by a Marketer)" [subscription required]. Godin suggests alternatives to the four-year college, such as "gap years, research internships, and entrepreneurial or social ventures after high school," and believes that "There are tons of ways to get a cheap liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter, and teaches you to make a difference (see DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, by Anya Kamenetz)" without going to a mainstream college. Godin argues that from a marketer's point of view, the typical American college is headed for obscurity for these reasons:

  • Most undergraduate college and university programs are organized to give an average education to average students. [See "Seven Imaginary Curricula"]
  • College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.
  • The definition of "best" [college] is under siege.
  • The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.
  • Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

Do Too Many Students Go To College?

George Leef

The Chronicle Review recently ran a lively discussion on that question, featuring nine people with widely divergent views. In today's Pope Center piece, I comment on it and offer my own answers to some of the questions posed.

Wishful Thinking

Peter Wood

Over on Phi Beta Cons, Fred Schwartz ("20 Reasons Why Campus Learning Is Better Than Online") cites my predictions about a “Great Transition” in which higher education will move from in-person campus-based institutions to mostly online instruction in the coming decades.  He dislikes the prospect and disagrees with how likely it is.  I don’t especially like the prospect either, but that’s neither here nor there.  The important question is whether something like the “Great Transition” could happen.  My answer is yes, it could.  That’s because, though our current institutional basis of higher education looks robust, it is highly vulnerable to small shifts in public esteem.   My article, The Shape of (Academic) Things to Come, wore its satirical colors openly.  I described people, places, and events twenty years into the future and attributed my detailed foresight to scientifically-enhanced precognition.  It says something about the level of fear that online education strikes in today’s academics that a fair number wrote to me to protest this leap of imagination, as if, like Prospero, I could conjure it out of thin air.   Don’t blame me.  If something like the Great Transition were to happen, it won’t be because I set it in motion.  Nor do I think that my fellow seer, Jane Shaw, can be blamed.  Fred Schwartz provides 20 reasons why campus learning is (or “can be”) better than online college education.  Most of his reasons sound right to me.  He starts out, “Not every subject lends itself to online learning.”  Entirely true, at least with current technology.  Looking at the last twenty years, I wouldn’t exactly rule out the possibility of dramatic improvements in the years ahead, but the more important point is that the subjects Fred cites as better learnt in person—“those that require laboratory work, clinical practice, studio learning, musical instruction, live performance, agricultural work, etc.”— do not require a university.  Historically, each of them was taught in a non-university setting.  Music conservatories and independent art schools still thrive.  Science grew up outside the university and has a vigorous life in independent institutes to this day.  Moreover, the decoupling of undergraduate education from more advanced studies already has models such as the Rockefeller University.  I won’t go through all twenty of Fred’s reasons, but most of them fall into this pattern.  He makes a valid point about the attraction of or benefit to be had from residential colleges, but the point has no real bearing on the larger economic and social forces at work.  Yes, it is nice to retire to a college town (point 3), but are we going to keep colleges going in order to provide enhanced retirement options?  It seems unlikely.  At the end of his post Fred allows that “most of these problems are surmountable,” but sees no positive reason why American society would want to surmount them.  In his view, “the college campus is not an expensive anachronism.” I wish that were true, and, even if it isn’t, I wish Americans would continue to believe it true.  But as my article suggested, it is a fragile hope.  For some fifty years, Americans have had drilled into them that higher education is mainly about getting the credentials to get a well-paying job.  If a technology comes along that offers much the same thing at a fraction of the cost, many people will choose that option (there’s “our friend the free market” for you). Online education is that technology, and it is late in the game for higher education to turn around and say, “Residential education is worth a premium price because college, after all, is really about the intangible aspects of shared culture, access to civilization, moral elevation, personal associations, and the richness of life.”   I think such claims happen to be true, but I don’t expect them to outweigh career ambition for the great majority of students or their parents.  To the contrary, the American public has drunk in the utilitarian calculus that college is a launching pad for lucrative careers.  And that public has also grown canny about the undergraduate degree becoming a merely intermediary step on the path to the credentials that really count.  To this we have to add the widespread recognition that in-person higher education is an enormously expensive and vainglorious enterprise that frequently produces meager results. This adds up to vulnerability.  Fred believes the risk is an illusion.  He cites (point #10) earlier claims that “printing, the telephone, sound recording, radio, movies, television, and various generations of computers,” would “revolutionize education and make all our schools and universities obsolete!”   That’s a pretty misleading “and.”  Most would say that printing, at least, did revolutionize higher education.  The other technologies on the list have had considerable consequences for higher education too.  It might be useful to think of online education as the synthesis of all of them, perhaps as the gasoline-powered automobile combined and synthesized a host of technologies that had already been invented, and spurred the invention of still more.  We can visit Lancaster, Pennsylvania for reassurance that automotive technology did not render horse-powered agriculture and transportation “obsolete,” but the equine economy isn’t what it once was.  I repeat, I am not eager for the rise of an online dominated form of higher education.  The cultural losses would include some that matter to me profoundly.  But I have yet to see a solid argument why the Great Transition won’t happen.  “I’d regret it” isn’t an argument.

The Shape of (Academic) Things to Come

Peter Wood

It’s 2029. Do you know where your university is?

What Does 'Sustainability' Have to Do With Student Loans?

Peter Wood

Students spend too much on too little as colleges buy in to some flimsy trends.

Igloo Building: A Primer on the Financial Aid Fiasco

Peter Wood

A glimpse at the student loan crisis and its implications for the academic world.