Higher Ed’s Reckoning is Coming

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

Unsurprisingly, despite 2017’s robust job growth, the American labor market remains glutted with many thousands of under- and unemployed college graduates.

Higher education has been oversold for at least two decades, yet a notion lingers that the nation somehow suffers if everyone doesn’t receive degrees. Higher education’s cheerleaders insist that Washington must act. That’s nonsense.

It makes absolutely no sense to commit taxpayer resources to confer college credentials on intellectually-weak, academically-indifferent fun-seekers pursuing meaningless, non-commercial degrees when dozens of very good, even excellent career opportunities for skilled, non-degreed workers go begging.

Sadly, the academy is rotting from within.

According to University of Chicago cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder, universities have abandoned three core values that once defined higher education’s mission:

1) “Research done primarily in anticipation of profit is incompatible with the aims of the university.” 2) “The basic principles of the university include complete freedom of research and the unrestricted dissemination of information.”

3) “There must be no consideration of sex, ethnic or national characteristics, or political or religious beliefs or affiliations in any decision regarding appointment, promotion, or reappointment at any level of the academic staff.”

George Leef wrote, “Fifty years ago, a degree from almost any of America’s liberal-arts colleges meant something. It was…evidence that the student had fairly well honed communication skills and…an analytical cast of mind. The degree demonstrated trainability and the refinement needed for most work.

“Today, however, many of our liberal-arts colleges have fallen on hard times, both financially and academically. Lots of them are up to their ears in debt and offer a curriculum that’s a hodge-podge of trendy courses. It’s clear that many liberal-arts students can’t write or speak worth a darn and have serious attitude problems.”

That may explain why Sexuality, Popular Culture and Puppetry graduates cannot grasp why they aren’t getting high-paying jobs.

Pomona College Professor John Seery concluded, “Tuitions are skyrocketing and educational integrity has been compromised because administrators, not educators, now run the show.”

The “show” caters to relative handfuls of disruptive, sometimes violent left-wing activists, so public backlash is inevitable. Campus activism has consequences, and colleges have begun paying the price for their liberal excesses. Institutions known as hotbeds of campus protest and liberal activism are already struggling with declining enrollments and budget shortfalls.

Overall, the value proposition of higher education has declined precipitously. Indeed, in August, Gallup released a poll finding that just 33 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents had a “great deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education.” Sixty-seven percent said they have “some or very little” confidence in academia.

Markets always work: If two-thirds of one-half of potential enrollees distrust institutions, economic impacts are certain.

Conditions may worsen, but, inescapably, academia must retrench. Families have become savvier shoppers, and public concern about tuition costs and student debt will force public universities to roll back their costs. Private campuses will thin out.

It will be interesting to see which institutions possess the intellect and will to reform, adapt and survive.