The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated to “hacking” higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.
One would imagine such a topic might be a going concern in Athens, GA, where so much of the local economy is dependent on a large state-funded University. If enrollment at U.GA. declined significantly, at least the local economy and workers would suffer; far worse might be the impact on public confidence should falling numbers necessitate a bail-out of the University system, generally, where payments on USG debts might begin to crowd out other state expenditures.
At least locally, one finds no sign demand for college is in decline; on the contrary, UGA seems still going towards a real climax in enrollment, physical plant expansion, and a full, robust funding of a public relations machine designed to win ever higher funding; at some point, perhaps, the effectiveness of the marketing effort must collapse. What happens after THAT?
The King doesn't know. Generally, I'd say "college" got itself in trouble in the same way the housing industry did; the great bubble in credit was partly diverted into "higher education" in the form of federal student loan money, the HOPE dollars, and a various assortment of "pay for" programs all leading to the "sticker shock" effect as some students paid less of the costs while institutions took advantage of this (and there ability to raise tution in order to get MORE Hope money!) to leverage up their own incomes.
ALONG the way, I suspect institutions poured much more money into many "special trusts" that had little to do with educating students; they skimped on faculty and staff, generally, and managed to run-off most of the best faculty now replaced with a few academic "stars" and a lot of part-time folks willing to tolerate the ill-regard for higher education practiced by the money-crazed self-deluded masters at the top!
THEN, if the value of an education, now, seems less, it's really because the academy was hacked, and its resources were diverted to self-serving interest groups. The degree, itself, is worth less because the resources poured into the degree program have been systematically reduced even as the entire assualt has been "scattered, smothered and covered" by a new age, glitz and glittering PR machine capable of massaging public and student opinion as needed. Until now, that is, according to the NYT article!
Of course, if some students, now, scoff at the "value" of a college education it may be in the same way would-be homeowners began to scoff at home prices in late 2006. This led to a steep decline in home prices, as builders and sellers stepped-up efforts to recruit new homeowners.
The SUPPLY, or over-supply, or over-capacity, in higher education made a degree, like a home, not worth the asking price. Of course, a real fall-off in supply or capacity will be necessary to give the higher ed credential new credence. In many ways, the crisis in higher education resembles that on-going crisis in the housing market. And, no, that one isn't over; far from it! Prices (and associated tax revenues) must set fresh lows and find a real bottom. (And, they cannot do that as long as the Fed is buying MBS and pushing down rates to near zero; such tactics prevent the bottom and probably help create one more bubble in prices that will have to dealt with AGAIN!; in higher education, current plans are to create vast supplies of new money banked away and available for "tuition" for those who cannot borrow to pay or pay out of their own pockets; similar to the Fed tactic this will undermine the process of devaluation and prop college costs above the clearing rate; this is a recipe for Depression in higher education!)