Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sometimes A Crises Is A Good Thing!

The chickens are coming home to roost at America's overpriced colleges.

First of all, let's debunk the term "crises" - the media loves to use it to describe just about everything these days.  Gas goes up ten cents a gallon and it is a "crises" because some idiot who bought a monster truck, jacked it up and put Bozo tires on it, is getting only 11 miles per gallon and he's entitled to cheap gas.

Crises is a mega-volcano blowing up humanity.  Crises is not a small drop in college enrollment.

But it is happening and has been happening and it was one of the first postings in this blog - colleges are headed for trouble and acting like nothing has changed.  But two things have changed, dramatically.

Demographics is the first part.  This generation of High School grads is smaller than the previous one, which was smaller than the one before.  Colleges thus have to compete, quite literally, for admissions.  You need butts in the seats to make a college work, and no students means no college.

A ran into a fellow who said his grand-daughter is having trouble getting in to college.  She has good grades and good SAT scores, but is relying on a needs-based scholarship to get into a prestigious school.  She has been accepted by her "backup" schools but is wait-listed at her desired schools.  It appears that many of the top tier schools are putting scholarship students on wait-list, hoping that some wealthy "legacy" applicant who will pay the full tuition amount will apply at the last minute.  They are that desperate for money.

The second problem is that schools have priced themselves out of the market.  Many would-be applicants are reading the horror stories online of young people who mortgaged their lives for a college degree and end up as a Barista at Starbucks instead of a Barrister at Law.  They still have to pay back fifty grand or more in school loans.

It is no different from GM back in the 1970's.  People saw poorly-made cars selling for close to ten grand and getting shitty gas mileage.  Meanwhile their "kooky" neighbor just rolled over 100,000 miles on his eight-year-old Toyota, getting 30 mpg in the process.  It takes a while, but eventually people catch on to what is happening.  Markets have a lot of hysteresis, as we are seeing today in the housing market. But you cannot hold back a flood, for long.

What will happen as a result of this drop in enrollment?  Well, more of the same thing.  Small, liberal-arts colleges are the canaries in the mine.  Many have sky-high tuition rates and the resultant degree is viewed as less valuable - if not worthless - in today's job market.  Granted, education should be much more than vocational training.  But then again, many of these small colleges started out as places to park young women for four years, while they found a spouse.  And this was the case not only in the early 1900's but until even the 1960's.

Times have changed, and having any college degree is no longer seen as a sign of distinction.  This idea that everyone should go to college is flawed, as what made a college degree worthwhile, was its exclusivity, even if that was a bit elitist.  When everyone goes to college, college becomes the new high school.  And these statistics that "You'll make 75% more money" by going to college are created by... colleges (Georgetown University, for that particular boner).  Yes, that was true in 1967.  Maybe less so, today.  And it depends on what kind of degree you get, of course.

If more schools go out of business - as many already have - it will mean more applicants for larger colleges and universities.  If that is the case, not much will change - tuition will remain sky-high and students will fall into the same traps as before.  But if the trend continues, maybe - just maybe - some schools will have to figure out some alternatives.

For example, cutting costs.  Many schools have built building after building when a wealthy alumnus kicks in money - and they want something with their name on it.  But maintaining these buildings - many of which are half-empty most of the time - is costly.  Many schools have cut the important parts to the bone - replacing tenured professors with adjunct, part-time faculty or graduate students - while padding the perks for the administration.  It may take bankruptcy to reverse this trend.

Then there are majors.  It is possible that students may demand more out of their education than an easy "A" in touchy-feely studies.  Again, this is problematic.  Florida is experimenting with removing "wokism" (which means whatever you want it to mean) from school curricula, including State universities and perhaps even private ones.   Whether students will flock to these "anti-woke" schools of flee from them, remains to be seen.  Perhaps not politicizing education in any direction is a good start.

Like I said before, the "Gay and Lesbian Student Association" at my alma mater (and its weekly beer bashes) is gone, replaced by a "Center for Queer Studies" and some way-too-serious people.  I guess you can get a degree in this now, although I am not sure why or where it would lead to.  I think that is best a home-study course.

Economics cannot be denied, and you would think colleges which teach economics would realize this.  You can install as many rock-climbing walls as you want in the student center, it doesn't make the resultant degree more worthwhile.  Rather, it just turns college into a hangout for rich kids to play around in, and for middle-class kids to make the biggest mistake of their lives, by signing up for student loans.

Of course, one reason why nothing has changed for so long was that it is 18-year-olds making these economic choices, and they are not a very experienced lot, when it comes to finances.  While young people decry the antics of oldsters, they do, subconsciously, put a lot of faith in what their teachers and parents have to say.  And when everyone says, "go to college, you'll earn more money that way!" they tend to believe it, even if it makes no sense if it incurs $100,000 of debt.

Compounding this are parents who - let's be honest here - want to get their hormonal and stinky teenager out of the house.  And college is a good way to do that.  And parents really believe the "college is key to success!" bit, because it was true for their generation.  Not only that, they want to impress their friends that their kid is college-bound and not some slacker working a slug job.

Colleges know this, which is why they have resisted change for so long - and will continue to do so.  They know that people salivate at the chance to get into their school, and so long as people feel that way, there will be no incentive to cut costs or lower tuition rates.

So, after nearly 15 years of blogging about this issue, I doubt much will change.  And no, "student loan forgiveness" or "free college" are not the answer but rather just throwing more gasoline on a fire of burning money.

I mean, come on, you tell these greedy college deans that the government will pay the bill?  Tuition will double overnight!

UPDATE:  See this article, which notes that many companies and government agencies are eliminating college degree requirements for many high-paying jobs.