Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bring on the bursting of the college bubble; it'll be a great show

My take:

The idea that we are about to experience a bursting of the college bubble, first broached, as I understand it, by Glenn Reynolds, promises to be far more entertaining than earlier bubble bursts.

Here's why. Almost everyone acknowledges that the traditional college curriculum has been debased even as the cost of college has multiplied, driven up by politicians eager to demonstrate their support. As student aid programs have grown, the colleges have grabbed much of the new money by raising tuition.

As traditional course offerings have fallen by the wayside, they have been replaced by courses with baffling names, such as "postmodern studies." Each of these names reflects a segment of the ever-growing, self-identified "victim" class.

Whether by coincidence or design, as the colleges and universities catered more and more to self-identified victims, the Democrat Party became essentially a gathering of "victims," all demanding government sustenance for the wicked behavior to which they had been subjected.

There has been some pushback by a fed-up under-educated public. A few years ago, voters in Michigan banned affirmative action in college admissions. A defiant president of the University of Michigan promptly promised to continue practicing affirmative action.

The self-designated victims will also put up a fight when their professional victimhood preparations are challenged.

So, unlike earlier bubble bursts, this one is going to be a good show. Students who already saw themselves as victims, even while receiving subsidies to study ephemeral matters that no one outside the institution cares about, will have still another reason to shout that they are being victimized.

Michael Barone:

Imagine that you have a product whose price tag for decades rises faster than inflation. But people keep buying it because they're told that it will make them wealthier in the long run. Then suddenly they find it doesn't. Prices fall sharply, bankruptcies ensue, great institutions disappear.

Sound like the housing market? Yes, but it also sounds like what Glenn Reynolds, creator of, writing in The Examiner, has called "the higher education bubble."

Government-subsidized loans have injected money into higher education, as they did into housing, causing prices to balloon. But at some point people figure out they're not getting their money's worth, and the bubble bursts.

Some think this would be a good thing. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Charles Murray has called for the abolition of college for almost all students. Save it for genuine scholars, he says, and let others qualify for jobs by standardized national tests, as accountants already do.

"Is our students learning?" George W. Bush once asked, and the evidence for colleges points to no. The National Center for Education Statistics found that most college graduates are below proficiency in verbal and quantitative literacy. University of California scholars Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks report that students these days study an average of 14 hours a week, down from 24 hours in 1961.

The American Council of Alumni and Trustees concluded, after a survey of 714 colleges and universities, "by and large, higher education has abandoned a coherent content-rich general education curriculum."

They aren't taught the basics of literature, history or science. ACTA reports that most schools don't require a foreign language, hardly any require economics, American history and government "are badly neglected" and schools "have much to do" on math and science.

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