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Higher Education Bubble Ready to Pop

The Boston Herald’s George F. Will  wrote last week that higher education’s bubble was quickly approaching its breaking point, and it has government intervention to thank for its rapid expansion and collapse.

Citing the work of a University of Tennessee law professor, Glenn Reynolds, the “status-building” of higher education degrees has outweighed their practical use in the job market. Further, he touts Reynolds’ argument that the bubble came about for the same reason as the housing bubble; not enough people were perceived to have access to a good, so government money was used to subsidize the cost of that good (through sub-prime loans in the housing example, or student loans when talking about higher education) which resulted in skyrocketing prices for those goods, leaving many borrowers penniless. Meanwhile, institutions continued to raise their fees while reducing their standards to collect increasing amounts of federal money.

To further impress this, he points to Richard Vedder’s column in the Chronicle of Higher Education that hypothesized there are more individuals with loan debts than there are degree-holders.

Will is particularly critical of the tendency for institutions to focus on ensuring their political correctness than their academic strength. He points out a study by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, which reported that at the same time as UC San Diego lost three cancer researchers to Rice University (the researchers were wooed by a 40 percent pay increase), the university found the funds to create a Vice Chancellor of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Will also points out that in 2006, UC Berkeley had more academic administrators than they did faculty members.

Ultimately, he argues that higher education institutions are pandering to political agendas while putting academic quality aside and increasing prices.