The views expressed this week are those of this author only. They are not necessarily the views of the author’s employer nor any other author at Chemistry-Blog.com.
Is there anything we can do to avoid having the higher education bubble collapse? Well, if the collapse is going to cause us all to shift our paradigms, we could just have the paradigm shift ahead of the bubble burst… Many of the suggestions I’ve read on how to prevent the bubble collapsing are a lot of the consequences I read about the post-bubble world. Many suggest that student should simply make smarter college choices, even if that means not attending a 4-year school or not attending college at all.
Several suggestions centered on increasing online learning opportunities. An explosion of valid, credible online course offerings could completely readjust the pricing model for higher education. Many schools, traditional or for-profit, are already starting to do this. Brigham Young University, Idaho campus, plans to offer 20% of its courses online. Students will be able to choose from 120 online courses.
Another way to revamp the system that has been proposed is to make universities more operationally efficient by extending the school year to a 12-month calendar. Rather than the traditional September – May academic year with two semesters, offer a 3-semester, September –
October July academic year. Two former college presidents suggest this could increase productivity as much as 15% without adding infrastructure. BYU-Idaho is also adopting this approach. The school runs three, 14-week semesters, with class in session for 42 weeks of the year instead of the traditional 30 weeks of class. Students still only attend two of the three semesters, but they can choose to attend all three on the “fast grad” track if they want.
An always contentious solution that’s usually proposed whenever anyone decries any downside of higher education is to completely revamp – or outright scrap – the tenure system. I don’t really think I’m going to touch this one. I’m too close to the situation, and there are many articles already written on the subject. But if the tenure system were changed, and if those changes led to a more realistic higher education market, and if those changes and market corrections could occur before the bubble collapsed, some have suggested this as a solution.
Schools could rethink their priorities about what tuition, room, and board dollars provide the student. Instead of bidding up prices by luring students with more and more amenities, competing universities could enter a price war to see who can undercut the other – while still offering the education the student needs. True, the health and fitness center probably won’t get updated elliptical machines in the near future, but we’re trying to avoid a market bubble collapse, remember.
Some other suggestions: straight cutting expenses by cutting salaries or reducing staff. Universities could link presidents’ salaries to cost reduction measures and student affordability programs. The government could increase appropriations or grants to institutions, essentially subsidizing higher education from the university’s end. The government could also institute partial or total loan forgiveness, a favorite rallying cry of the OWS movement. The government, or lenders themselves, could arbitrarily cap the amount of student loans a student can take. I think this last suggestion might actually accelerate the market crash, but whatever.
Still others had some more radical suggestions. Jon Bischke suggests getting rid of the GPA/degree metric of determining a person’s worth in a job market. Rather, he proposes a reputation graph: a virtual representation of your skills, education, social reputation, and other metrics. It’s almost an online word-of-mouth promotion technique.
If the problem is over-leveraging, then one radical solution would be to remove the complete federal guarantee from the loans. No matter what happens to the borrower after graduation, the school has already gotten paid. But if the school faces a financial penalty when one of their graduate’s defaults, schools may show more of a concern for the amount of debt students accrue and what students do with their time while they’re in school. Schools wouldn’t financially be able to repay the entire loan balance, but making the school responsible for 10-15% of the loan balance is proposed to make the higher education experience more equitable.
Finally, one person is individually trying to reshape public opinion about higher education. I already linked to a page of wildly successful household names who never finished school. Well, Peter Theil (PayPal founder) setup the Thiel Foundation. The foundation awarded 20 students $100,000 to quit school and start their own company. You can read the students’ proposals at the Foundation’s website. Theil has said that a few of the students told him they would quit school to start their company regardless of whether they won the $100,000 or not. Thiel is trying to poke holes in the idea that a person needs a college degree to succeed, and he’s putting a large bankroll behind his initiative.
Will any one solution solve the problem? Of course not. Nothing this complicated ever has a simple solution. Will any of these measures ever be adopted and tried out? I doubt it – at least not before the market forces some realignment by a bubble crash or other market force.
The biggest dilemma for me in this mess is a moral and professional dilemma. On the one hand, I’m an un-tenured professor, so it’s probably in my best interest to keep the boat as calm as possible. But I teach at a private, liberal arts college where a semester’s worth of tuition and fees is more than $15,000. To protect my job (and my industry), don’t I need as many warm bodies coming through the gates as possible? But I have really strong feelings on student loan debt and there is the lingering of ‘should everyone go to college?’ Am I contributing to the problem by encouraging as many people onto campus as possible?
What implications does this have for how I conduct myself at recruitment and retention efforts? What implications does this have when I have that student in my office genuinely struggling with classes, who may not be motivated, who may only be there because it’s expected? How am I supposed to conduct myself given what I know about this market, this industry, and this student loan mess?
These questions have haunted me since I started talking about this with colleagues at a pedagogy seminar a few weeks ago. They’ve been haunting me ever since I started preparing this series, and they still haunt me now. Someone help me answer them!
Well, this wraps up our week-long discussion into the higher education bubble. It may have seemed a little out of place on a chemistry blog, but, well, this is the only platform I have! And it probably affects us all by one or two degrees of separation. If you’re not in the higher education field, you probably went to school with someone who is, or you have a child who is or will be a college student soon.
I certainly don’t claim to have any answers here, but this is an important conversation to have, in my opinion. It absolutely has a direct impact on my livelihood as an un-tenured college instructor. My job may depend on the direction higher education takes in the next decade. The best thing we can do is start talking about it. The worst thing we can do is pretend nothing will ever change and then be completely blindsided when the market turns.
Thanks for joining me this week.