Posts tagged with: higher education

discourseYou’ve heard of that mythical place where elephants go to die? Apparently, these giants “know” they are going to die, and they head off to a place known only to them.

Free speech in the United States goes off to die as well, but there is no myth surrounding this. Free speech dies in our colleges and universities. Just ask American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Sommers. Sommers is a former philosophy professor and AEI scholar who recently spoke at Oberlin College. Her speech was excellent, but it apparently frightened the pants off a bunch of students (oh, I probably can’t say that. It likely makes someone feel violated.) They paraded outside the room where Sommers spoke, holding signs invoking “trigger warnings” and announcing a “safe room” where those who found Sommers’ talk too much to handle. Her topic? “What’s Right (And Wrong) With Feminism.” She was harassed and harangued both in-person and online for daring to speak such words. (more…)

The Acton Institute Mini-Grants on Free Market Economics Program accepts proposals from business and economics faculty members at Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities in the United States and Canada in order to promote the scholarship and teaching of market economics. This program allows for collaboration between faculty from different universities, as well as allow future leaders to emerge, strengthen, and expand the existing network of scholars within economics. Entrants may submit proposals in two broad categories: Course development and faculty scholarships.  You can learn more about this program on the Mini-Grants page.

Here is the complete list of the 2014 winners and their specific projects: (more…)

College Freshman

College Freshman

Consider the following (emphasis added):

“Higher education is an industry in danger,” says Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School guru and a senior advisor (unpaid) at Academic Partnerships. “It’s very plausible to say that 15 years from now half of the universities that exist will be bankrupt and in some fundamental way facing extinction and the need to totally change themselves.” (Caroline Howard, “No College Left Behind,” Forbes, 2/12/14)

Richard Lyons, the dean of University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, has a dire forecast for business education: “Half of the business schools in this country could be out of business in 10 years—or five,” he says. (Patrick Clark, “Half of U.S. Business Schools Might Be Gone by 2020,” Businessweek, 3/14/14)

What do you think? Are the doomsayers about the higher ed bubble generally too pessimistic? Are there discernibly different markets for different kinds of higher ed.? If Lyons is right about the dynamics of B-schools, are there similar dynamics at work for divinity schools and seminaries? Are such religious institutions more or less vulnerable?

There’s no shortage of those warning about various iterations of a higher education bubble. It’s almost a cottage industry. Are they Chicken Littles or true prophets?

For more reading, consider the Controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality, “Should Students Be Encouraged to Pursue Graduate Education in the Humanities?”

The massive federal student loan program is creating a gargantuan higher education bubble and unsustainable levels of student loan debt, but at least all that borrowed money is going primarily to educate people, right? Apparently not. Yahoo Finance reports on yet another way that the nanny state is creating moral hazard and impoverishing the culture:

A number of factors are behind the growth in student debt. The soft jobs recovery and the emphasis on education have driven people to attain more schooling. But borrowing thousands in low-rate student loans—which cover tuition, textbooks and a vague category known as living expenses, a figure determined by each individual school—also can be easier than getting a bank loan. The government performs no credit checks for most student loans.

College officials and federal watchdogs can’t say exactly how much of the U.S.’s swelling $1.1 trillion in student-loan debt has gone to living expenses. But data and government reports indicate the phenomenon is real. The Education Department’s inspector general warned last month that the rise of online education has led more students to borrow excessively for personal expenses. Its report said that among online programs at eight universities and colleges, non-education expenses such as rent, transportation and “miscellaneous” items made up more than half the costs covered by student aid. (more…)

Alejandro Chafuen, board member of the Acton Institute and a contributor to, has recently written an op/ed asking, “Will think tanks become the universities of the 21st century?” He says that “think tanks and the academy in all likelihood, were united at birth.” and that “Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs, are affecting universities as few other developments in the history of education. [He] would not be surprised if taking advantage of this technology some of the major think tanks, especially those with outstanding scholars on their staff, will soon develop into small boutique universities.” Chafuen also lists several U.S. think tanks that are working on university type programs, including Acton University:

  • The Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, has been hosting their Mises University since 1986.  The one week course focuses on Austrian economics.
  • Cato Institute has its Cato University, usually taking place at the end of July.
  • A recent entrant to this market, the Acton University, organized by the Acton Institute, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Last year it attracted close to 800 students and professors from approximately 80 countries.   It is the most international free society educational program in history.
  • The Atlas Network hosts a Think Tank MBA course for talented intellectual entrepreneurs, as well as a “leadership academy”  as an online course to help enhance think tank talent.

He concludes with this thought:

The new global scene and the new technologies are changing the optimum size of educational institutions.   The lessons from Plato’s Academy, which took place in a garden grove near Athens, had an enormous impact on civilization.  The evolving scene in higher education and the growth of think tanks will lead to new educational offerings that will have a major impact on the quality and quantity of policy studies and public policy education.

Unfortunately registration for Acton University is closed, but you can check out AU Online.  The foundational courses are free!

Stamp-higher-educationThe latest topic of The City podcast is the higher education bubble, featuring Cate MacDonald, Dr. John Mark Reynolds, and Dr. Holly Ordway. Reynolds makes the point that bubbles can arise when things are overvalued, but that it is important to determine whether that thing is relatively overvalued or absolutely overvalued. That is, to speak of a higher education bubble is to recognize that higher education is relatively more expensive than it is worth, but that it isn’t therefore worth nothing. The challenges facing higher education are various and multi-faceted, and one of the key issues is the necessity of determining how college education ought to be valued.

The podcast also discusses the level of student indebtedness, which is perhaps a sign of the disconnect between cost and value, and this also is a topic that comes up in the recent controversy in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality between William Pannapacker and Marc Baer of Hope College. The point of departure for the discussion is the question, “Should students be encouraged to pursue graduate education in the humanities?” Pannapacker has a long-running column in the Chronicle of Higher Education under the pen name Thomas H. Benton that has addressed issues of graduate higher education and academic culture. In a 2009 piece, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,” Pannapacker writes,

It can be painful, but it is better that undergraduates considering graduate school in the humanities should know the truth now, instead of when they are 30 and unemployed, or worse, working as adjuncts at less than the minimum wage under the misguided belief that more teaching experience and more glowing recommendations will somehow open the door to a real position.

The adjunct phenomenon also features prominently in the JMM controversy between Pannapacker and Baer. As Baer contends, “Adjunct is a different problem in which academic leaders are more victims than perpetrators. The real perpetrator, at least for public universities, is the state legislator who has so unthinkingly starved higher education of resources.”

Moving from the state to the federal level, one possible consequence of the Affordable Care Act is that graduates who rely on adjunct teaching to make a living may face a greater squeeze on their already questionable financial livelihoods. As Mark Peters and Douglas Belkin report in The Wall Street Journal, “The federal health-care overhaul is prompting some colleges and universities to cut the hours of adjunct professors” because of the potential costs of providing health coverage to those adjuncts who teach 30 hours per week or more.

The first two pieces from the controversy are available for free on the JMM site: William Pannapacker’s “Should Students Be Encouraged to Pursue Graduate Education in the Humanities?” and Marc Baer’s “‘Graduate Education in the Humanities’: A Response to William Pannapacker.” The concluding pieces of the controversy are available to current subscribers, and you can become one today.

One of the most worrisome economic troubles coming down-the-pipe is the “student debt bubble” which many argue is caused by too many students seeking degrees in higher education as the costs of tuition increase. Because we understand that poverty and economic misfortune are serious barriers to human flourishing, it is very important to try and understand the economics involved in the education market. Dylan Pahman gave a good explanation earlier today about how administrative costs are rising to promote a myriad of diversity-advocacy programs, a process which is clearly affecting  the supply-side of the issue. What about the demand side where students are making the decision to go to college?

How is it that so many students are making a seemingly irrational choice? In a post at strategyprofs, Steve Postrel explains here that while it may be true that college degrees may be becoming more common and watered down in the quality of education they represent, that it is also true that high school quality is dropping. This means that college degrees represent a greater increase in knowledge than they used to, signaling a greater value relative to non-college educated persons.

Typical graduate business school education has indeed become less rigorous over time, as has typical college education. But typical high school education has declined in quality just as much. As a result, the human capital difference between a college and high-school graduate has increased, because the first increments of education are more valuable on the job market than the later ones. It used to be that everybody could read and understand something like Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the typical college graduates could also understand Milton or Spencer. Now, nobody grasps Milton but only the college grads can process Animal Farm, and for employers the See Spot Run–>Animal Farm jump is more valuable than the Animal Farm–>Milton jump.

So the value of a college education has increased even as its rigor has declined, because willingness to pay for quality is really willingness to pay for incremental quality. This principle holds true in many markets.

Interestingly, one of the best ways to help lower the cost of college education might to be to improve the quality of education that a high school diploma represents. Understanding why high school education is declining requires us to think beyond a knee jerk “just spend more” reaction and understand that our current public education system is insulated against the processes that wipe out nearly all other inefficient and inferior services: the market.

To effectively help others become productive agents in the market and realize their vocations, we need to advocate for steps that will cause education at all levels to reflect a true added value. School choice seems to be an obvious candidate for improving educational outcomes.

H/T Marginal Revolution