Published on 2013/03/05

Higher Education in America 2064: Goodbye Humanities, Hello Business 101

Higher Education in America 2064: Goodbye Humanities, Hello Business 101
The year is 2064, and the higher education industry is vastly different from what it was in 2013.

As the global recession dragged on into 2014, there was a growing public outcry about the cost and outcomes of higher education. There were also growing calls to regulate the large, for-profit universities. It was against this backdrop that the Federal Government passed the Comprehensive College Scorecard, or CCS, late in 2014. Washington was finally going to make colleges accountable. The CCS looked at several measures: how many graduates of a program were employed “in their field,” how many graduates were making a certain salary and what percentage were paying back their student loans. The government gave these new regulations teeth by threatening to cut off federal student aid (FSA) to those programs and schools that were not performing well.

The CCS was gradually implemented over the next three years. For the top 100 colleges, this scorecard had virtually no impact. Many students in the elite schools didn’t need loans and had good jobs waiting for them when they graduated. The impact on the thousands of second- and third-tier colleges, however, was immediate and dramatic. Small, private colleges that scored low on the CCS lost their FSA eligibility and this accelerated their financial collapse. In larger state universities, disciplines that could not show immediate usefulness were phased out in the years 2017 to 2022 so that the schools did not lose their eligibility for FSA loans. Literature, psychology, the arts, music, philosophy, the classics, political theory and sociology majors were pulling down the overall scores of these colleges, with the low employment rate of graduates “in their field” and low starting salaries. To solve this problem, these departments were first scaled back and, then, many were eliminated by the 20s and 30s.

By 2030, most traditional college majors were gone. Many community colleges, tribal colleges and traditional black colleges could not meet the minimum thresholds. As you may recall, the dropout rate in community colleges was high because they took in under-prepared non-traditional students. In fashioning a net that would catch the non-performing for-profits, the government had not taken into account that the dropout and graduation numbers in community colleges were similar. Government funds for community colleges were cut back. These funds were redirected to larger state colleges that had more restrictive admissions standards and, thus, better graduation rates. By 2030, many community colleges had shut their doors.

To lower their costs, many schools started granting credit for massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other free or inexpensive online classes. In this way, they could cut full-time faculty and control the cost of labor. The next step taken to lower tuition was the outsourcing of student services and records to for-profit companies that could do it more cheaply. By 2035, the public began to recognize something was wrong, and there was political pressure to roll back the CCS. But the damage was already done. To conform to the CCS, colleges were forced to steer students into computer science, business or education. As research and scholarship were not measured by the CCS, funding for both was cut drastically. By 2040, the number of patents and copyrights applied for by colleges was reduced by 70 percent.

To meet the CCS standards, colleges had to control costs. Already staggering under a mountain of debt, this forced many colleges into a greater reliance on adjunct faculty with no benefits, and online classes hosted by third-party providers. With fewer faculty, there was a need for more professional administrators trained in business and management. Colleges were now measured on how carefully they managed their budgets and how practical their degrees were for getting their graduates their first job.

The more traditional colleges, governed by faculty senates and traditional boards, were unable to make these rapid and drastic changes and had to close their doors.  More than 25 percent of American colleges were financially insolvent by 2032.

But there were two surprising and unintended consequences. The first unintended consequence was that the only graduates in theoretical sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities came from the top-tier schools. This solved the problem of the excess of PhDs by limiting those types of degrees mainly to the upper classes. The second unintended consequence was the growth of badges outside of the university and the growing acceptance of these badges by the business world demonstrated by the hiring of employees who earned them. When this happened, many students simply stopped going to college. By 2064, the number of students attending colleges had shrunk by 45 percent and there were 35 percent fewer colleges. Employers hiring both high-tech and high-skill jobs no longer required applicants to have a college degree.

The student debt problem was solved. There was no more philosophy, classics, music or physics for those not fortunate enough to afford an elite college. Gatsby, Ahab, Jefferson, Puccini, Darwin, Schrodinger, Dante and Locke were banished from the curriculum in most colleges. Students were no longer introduced to Nietzsche, Keroac, Freud, Keats or Marx. I.T., business and accounting programs boomed. Technocratic administrators armed with spreadsheets and boasting expertise in management theories and organizational effectiveness thrived. The university that had slowly evolved over 1,000 years was “fixed” by a single law. Washington wanted colleges to be accountable. Problem solved.

John Cardinal Newman, who authored “The Idea of A University” in 1852, turned over in his grave.

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Readers Comments

Dan Jones 2013/03/05 at 9:03 am

There’s a lot to unpack in this scenario. The obvious negatives are:
(i) the creation of a two-tier education system, where only the elite have access to higher education and the rest are forced to settle for sub-par training and
(ii) the dissolution of arts and humanities programs. At the same time, the idea of “badges” isn’t necessarily a bad one.

Higher education does seem to be moving in this direction, with more institutions now offering professional designations, apprenticeship programs, etc. — all geared at making graduates “job ready.” If institutions could ensure this type of instruction retained the high quality one associates with postsecondary education, this could be a positive development.

WA Anderson 2013/03/05 at 3:56 pm

In 2065, one brave woman started holding meetings in her home where, twice a week, inquiring minds would come together to debate philosophy and literature. These meetings were open to all and, soon, drew so large a crowd they could no longer be held in her house.

Members of the group, who called themselves the neo-précieuses, began broadcasting their meetings so interested individuals could tune in from their homes on their gamma devices. And the group grew. They began demanding a reversal of the CCS legislation from 2014.

They demonstrated in large groups outside of government buildings. They enlisted the support of private sector leaders, who were tired of hiring employees with technical expertise but no critical thinking skills to inject creativity into their industries. In 2068, the CCS was repealed.

Frank McCluskey 2013/03/06 at 9:19 am

WA Anderson,

I like the beginning of this post:
In 2065, one brave woman started holding meetings in her home where, twice a week, inquiring minds would come together to debate philosophy and literature. These meetings were open to all and, soon, drew so large a crowd they could no longer be held in her house.

You know during many periods of history, the great minds lived outside of the walls of the university. Descartes, Montaigne, Dickinson, Nietzsche, Proust, Austin and Galileo lived their lives outside of the university and built invisible colleges with like minded individuals. Thanks so much for tacking a happy ending to my very sober writing. :-)

    WA Anderson 2013/03/06 at 3:07 pm

    My pleasure – Frank, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the future!

Dr. Tom Phelan 2013/03/06 at 2:52 pm

According to research by Tough and others, 80% of adult learning projects occur outside of formal educational settings. Nonetheless, a college degree is something more than its cost. Jobs are not the only valuable outcomes of a college education. Online or traditional makes no difference. Learning is what counts. I predict that online learning, distance learning, or however you categorize higher education, will be more than the delivery system. Remember when “teaching machines” were going to replace teachers; television, the classroom; overheads, the white board or chalk board; video, live instructors; and so forth. Human interaction is here to stay. You can quote me.

Muvaffak GOZAYDIN 2013/03/11 at 6:43 am

Dr Tom

I attended college for 8 years, with 3 MS in engineering . Then I had a life of 50 years with industry and business.
I learned 80 % of what I know from the books and research papers without human interaction.

Sorry to say that ” teachers like to assume that they are indispensable within any education ”
For the last 20 years I say
Teaching is out
Learning is in .

That is the very reason MIT and Harvard started EDX
they want to know
” how people learn ”
They will gather 2 billion learners within some years . Let us wait !!!!!!!

Muvaffak GOZAYDIN 2013/03/11 at 6:53 am

Wonderful scenario .

But CCS Regulation ????

1.- How many graduates of a program were employed in their fields ( If she is sociology graduate but she finds a job in industry , not counted ???? )

What do they measure ? It depends on so many factors.

2.- How many graduates were making a certain salary and what percentage were paying back their student loans .

What salary is what salary is not good . Engineers this year make good money but not next year. What is the measure ?

this regulation is not serious. You are pulling our legs . It is a joke .

Frank McCluskey 2013/03/14 at 1:03 pm

There is no regulation called the CCS yet. But this is not a joke and I am not pulling your leg. The article begins in 2014 and is a story about what could happen in the future. But although no such law exists yet, very very similar proposals have been made by the executive branch and the legislative branch in the United States in the past two years. They want to measure how a degree would translate almost exactly to a job. The new world is global, digital and rapidly changing. This means we must educate our students not for their first job but to be a smart and well educated worker who will learn new skills as the world changes around him or her.

Muvaffak GOZAYDIN 2013/12/24 at 4:53 am

It is amazing. I am reading the article with a different eye now .

Federal Government tries to find a solution to HE in the USA .
So this is a scenario if an anticipated CCS is issued.

Here is my solution scenario , very simple and no Money is required . No CCS required .

1.- Support edx non profit top schools consortium of online.

2.- Convince EDX to provide degrees too, such as MITx, Harvardx, Cornellx.

3.- Ask edx to add more member but still good schools but less competitive school for less skilled students .Such as Uni of Michigan, Uni of Illinois, Uni of Wisconsin,Purdue, NYU etc .

I think the first 100 ranking universities will suffice for the purpose .

4.- These are all research universities. Let them develop online courses and degrees for their DIGITAL DIVISION such as MITx, Harvardx. Digital Division will do all implementation, but knowledge will be provided by the elite research universities . Uni of Wisconsin will use a course mutually developed by MIT and or Harvard according to level of Wisconsin students .

5.- Students will register with the Digital Divisons and prepare a degree program with their advisors . When they complete 40 courses of 10-15 weeks long they will be awarded a BA degree of MITx etc .
All courses must be the same as ONCAMPUS COURSES . That is a must for quality .

6.- All students must have a high school diploma

7.- ONLINE courses will be at $ 50-150 per course may be even less .

1.- Everybody in the USA can attend to good elite schools at a small fee and get a degree, and since they have a quality education they can find jobs .

2.- Within 10 years, may be in 20 years most colleges will be closed but 100-200 research universities .

3.- 2 million or so teachers, faculties will be jobless. If they train themselves they can find jobs as course developer at higher salaries .

4.- No Federal Loans are needed at all .

5.- Parents are happy they can afford $ 50-150 per course

6.- Students are happy they can get good education plus good jobs plus work during the education . No debt .

7.- States are happy. No subsidy for HE. Less taxes

CONVINCE EDX TO PROVIDE DEGREES at $ 50-150 per course .

Muvaffak GOZAYDIN 2013/12/24 at 5:04 am

Problem of HE is greater than we think.
Just Evollution wrote several weeks ago.
According to one survey or research

” 60 % of the Graduates of colleges from 1992 to 2008 are holding jobs even a high school graduates can do it . ”

I deduce from it 60 % of the colleges are useless . Sure they are the most non quality colleges .
But as long as Federal Loans finance those colleges; people will continue to those schools and waste taxpayers Money .

Something must be done .

Esmail Yazdanpour 2013/12/25 at 7:00 am

50 years before the date you envisioned, this scenario has actually been implemented here in Iran. Our former minister of higher education was busy eradicating such fields as cultural studies, women studies, etc as they are “incompatible with our values”. Also, according to a policy, most of universities located in small towns and southern cities of Iran do not need humanities as there will be no job for the graduates. Instead, the students will learn the farm and industry skills. All other resisting departments of humanities, from literature to sociology and from psychology to philosophy, was to be replaced with business skills departments.

You see, we are living a real science-fiction situation, every incident your horror writers imagine to describe, has already been happened to us.

Laura 2013/12/27 at 4:47 pm

Loved this story. I believe that we are moving towards a brave new world and I respect the mind that can even begin to fathom what this future holds. On a side note, what is the world going to be like without all those wonderful Philosophy Majors?

Dana Cottam 2014/01/05 at 12:40 pm

Thank you for this thought provoking story! The simple solution is balance. When government ( democratic government) passes a law such as this, the implementation of the law lands in the hands and minds of the administrations. Implementations without humanities brings to my mind a robotic administration where contentment and satisfaction of a well done job are absent, resulting in poor employee retainment, poor company growth and the eventual demise of the organization. Humanities and arts by their very name provide foundational support to the existence of the idea of an educated society. They should never be taken away.

Frank Palatnick 2014/01/11 at 1:46 pm

Another factor that could validate your hypothesis is that many famous people have added to their knowledge base by a process called ‘ autodidactic learning ‘ . Leonardo da Vinci and others have increased their understanding of the world through ‘ self learning ‘. There is an article found in Wikipedia as well as other social websites that show that it is gaining momentum. Not only has college tuition caused students to think twice before applying to an Ivy League school, but factors such as the amount of time needed to get that degree and the loss of a social life have deterred them. Yes………. I am aware that in the business arena it is the degree that gets you a good job. However, this is the twenty first century. Not only must we think outside the box. We must break the box if the box is ‘ unsuccessful ‘.

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