Higher Ed’s Really Bad Year

Back in 2003, I wrote a blog post on the original Apartment 11D blog about higher ed. I predicted that a lot of mid-level colleges would start closing, that prices were too high, and that the current system was going to increasingly serve the rich.

Ha.

Between the college cheating scandal, which pretty showed everyone that the admissions system is rigged, and now the slowly unraveling Epstein scandal, which shows how researchers are willing to dance with perverts for money, people are getting cynical.

There are several good new books about higher education, including Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes Us or Breaks Us. The Hechinger Report has a good review. The Atlantic has an excerpt, but I can’t read it behind the paywall.

I’m pressed for time this afternoon, but I just want to point you all to one lovely report out of Georgetown. On page 4, I stole this chart.

People who go to a community college and get an AA degree in a STEM field earn more after graduation, than people who graduate from a four-year college with a BAs. (And everyone keeps telling me about the bad outcomes for those Psychology majors.) Make good choices, people!

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8 thoughts on “Higher Ed’s Really Bad Year

  1. The chronicle had a good article on “thoughts on the meritocracy”: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190911-meritocracy-forum

    Your 2003 article was a interesting blast from the past — NYU 25K!

    You proposed online education as the replacement model. Where do you think we are on online education, now? Liberty U seems to be using online education as its revenue tool (and has pretty high debt loads + default rates).

    What other schools are successfully implementing such programs in raising revenue? Are there online degrees with good returns on investment?

    I’ve been vaguely following the USC Social Work Masters, which expanded through an online partnership (with the partner claiming 60% of the revenue). The program is now in disarray and has left students with significant debt.

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  2. Read the excerpt in The Atlantic and decided the Tough book was worth buying. Unlike Tough, who didn’t like college, and found his home at Harpers by being able to do what they needed, I love college. I loved it when I was the child of a professor, when I was a student, when I was a graduate student, and when I was a professor. I love it now as the parent of a college student (of course, I could always have peeked in, but seeing the world my child has to access more personally is exciting). And my kid is not at a land grant/large public university, but those places have much of the excitement too.

    But, I think it is a real trend that college is not a love for many and yet is a necessity. The Atlantic excerpt talks about a student in welding college (and, yes, welding requires formal education). Tough elides a fundamental issue, which is the instability of the student in the college (gets fired from multiple jobs for missing too many days). But, Tough also discusses the demands of the college, the money, and the state support.

    I think our economy has holes which we fill with “throw away” people (as the welder Tough profiles refers to himself). I offer no history, since I don’t know it, but I think it is not sustainable. And I do not believe it will not be fixed by trade wars or closing doors to immigration.

    Also, looking at a Harper’s subscription.

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    1. bj said, “Unlike Tough, who didn’t like college, and found his home at Harpers by being able to do what they needed, I love college. I loved it when I was the child of a professor, when I was a student, when I was a graduate student, and when I was a professor.”

      I also loved being an undergrad (except for paper stress–blech!) and I didn’t really love graduate school (because it’s ALL paper stress), but yep.

      One of the things I realize now (having spent most of my adult life on or near college campuses), is that colleges represent a tremendous concentration of resources and opportunities, and I’m going to make sure that my kids are more aware of that than I was as a young adult. It’s a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet of stuff young people need, from academics to career counseling to basic health care to exercise to wholesome entertainment.

      “The Atlantic excerpt talks about a student in welding college (and, yes, welding requires formal education).”

      That was a very educational piece. $19k in debt, and not done yet!

      “Tough elides a fundamental issue, which is the instability of the student in the college (gets fired from multiple jobs for missing too many days).”

      Right–which probably also had some connection to him winding up divorced. But at the same time, he did have a growing family. But yeah, there probably was a reason why he wound up graduating near the very bottom of his high school class. It’s possible that an ADHD diagnosis would change his life, if he doesn’t have one already…

      College students are increasingly “non-traditional,” so there are a lot more practical obstacles. I bet one of the reasons we loved college so much was that that was the only thing we were doing. Throw in other grownup responsibilities, and it’s a lot less fun.

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      1. AmyP excellent point! When college is the only thing you are doing, other than a minimal part time job, it can be very enjoyable. Especially undergrad.

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  3. ” I’m going to make sure that my kids are more aware of that than I was as a young adult. It’s a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet of stuff young people need”

    Agree. Your pointing towards the health care and other resources (for which we pay), but also the smorgasbord of learning opportunities far beyond the classroom. I can already see my college freshman ready to take more opportunity from those offerings.

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  4. Tough’s book seems to be of the “All Cretans are liars” type, in which someone claims that college is too important in people’s lives, and notes that it doesn’t have to be that important, by showing that in his own life it wasn’t important.

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    1. I did not think so — he celebrates the success of UT Austin in improving graduation rates and says Columbia might handle him differently now. The Atlantic excerpt is on how even welders have to go to school. I haven’t read the book yet, but I think the premise is going to be college is now vital but colleges are doing a poor job at being an engine of opportunity.

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  5. I read through the comments at the NYTimes on paying for college:

    One of those annoying click through interactive, but, it was enlightening to read the comments. It struck me that though I try to be see out the bubble that surrounds me, how little I know about the challenges others face and how easy it is to default into the “let them eat cake” mindset.

    Even at the wealthiest colleges, which promise both needblind admissions and meet full need, more than half the kids have parents who pay the full cost of attending. It’s a reminder of wealthy the families that access those schools really are. It worries me, this bifurcation of the world, and the resources available to some but not others.

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