The next bubble to burst will be the education bubble. Make no mistake about it, education is big business and, like other big businesses, it is in big trouble. What people outside the education bubble don’t realize and people inside won’t admit is that many colleges and universities are in the same position that major banks and financial institutions are: their assets (endowments down 30-40 percent this year) are plummeting, their liabilities (debts) are growing, most of their costs are fixed and rising, and their income (return on investments, support from government and private donations, etc.) is falling. – Mark C. Taylor, Columbia University
In his late 40s, my father reluctantly gave up the profession he loved (journalism) and accepted a position as director of public relations at a university so that he could put six of his seven kids through a good college on tuition waivers. He hated the job (public relations was anathema to newspapermen back then), but he stuck it out long enough to see all of us receive our diplomas, two with complimentary postgraduate degrees.
There was never any debate in our family over the purpose of college. We all entered the groves of academe to get a well-rounded education, not to acquire a passport to a career. I can still remember vividly the disgust my father displayed when he related to me a conversation he’d had with the university’s director of admissions (DoA?), for whom higher education was simply a means of warehousing young people and keeping them out of the workforce for as long as possible — presumably to protect the previously employed from low-paid competitors. It didn’t make any sense to me either, and I shared his disgust.
The DoA’s dark vision of delayed maturity and social conditioning was already ascendant, however, and has since prevailed.
How I rejoiced, then, when outfits like the Teaching Company started springing up in the 1980s — offering cassette recordings (and later CDs, DVDs, and online versions) of college courses taught by the best professors in America! All of a sudden, it became possible for anyone — not just the well-to-do and the offspring of college administrators — to enjoy the benefits of higher education without taking on long-term debt and suffering the soul-deadening side effects of campus culture.
The university system may now be in its final throes, but the death knell sounded 20 years ago.