Monday, September 21, 2009

Education Bubbles

If you're still interested in the future of higher education, here are some resources. This morning, on NPR's Marketplace Morning Report, Chris Farrell talked about the high student loan default rate, the dropping earnings rate that college graduates are experiencing, and the future of education. He says that a college degree used to be the equivalent of a hot growth stock, but now it's more similar to insurance--you don't want to be without it, but you want to be careful what you buy. Go here to listen. It's a short piece, but it seemed well-reasoned and thoughtful.

A bit more on the apocalyptic side is this story from Washington Monthly, which asks what happens when students can get all the classes they can complete for the low, low price of $99. The author, Kevin Carey, says, "In recent years, Americans have grown accustomed to living amid the smoking wreckage of various once-proud industries—automakers bankrupt, brand-name Wall Street banks in ruins, newspapers dying by the dozen. It’s tempting in such circumstances to take comfort in the seeming permanency of our colleges and universities, in the notion that our world-beating higher education system will reliably produce research and knowledge workers for decades to come. But this is an illusion. Colleges are caught in the same kind of debt-fueled price spiral that just blew up the real estate market. They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows."

It's important to mention that most people can still get a good undergraduate education for the price of a moderately priced new car--and there's still reason to hope that the education will outlast the car. And in many fields, we can't do the training online, at least not all of it: think of the medical field, for example. I think that we'll always have some form of higher education, but I think it's going through radical changes and won't resemble the college educations that many of us received. Good or bad? Still too early to say.

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