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Why Today’s Colleges Must Change, or Die

A pair of articles about higher education today—this USA Today piece on student loan debt, and another in the New York Post—call attention to several fast-approaching realities that should cause all of us to take notice—not just college students. A few highlights:
  • 13.3 percent of today’s 2012 grads are unemployed (compared with just 7.6 percent of our seasonally adjusted national average).
  • As of last year, 16.9 percent of men ages 25-34 were living with their parents (compared with 2005 figures of 13.5 percent of these young men, and 8.1 percent of these young women).
  • An average college grad today holds $27,500 in debt (compared with $15,000 in today’s dollars, for 1993 college grads).
  • Today, college costs, on average, $60,000 per year.
Will the center hold? Increasingly, experts are saying no. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and co-author David Wilezol have a terrific new book that asks simply, “Is College Worth It?” They point out how university costs in recent decades have vastly outpaced inflation—and how today’s increasingly global economy requires skills many college grads don’t necessarily have. Moreover, technological changes our grandparents could never have dreamed about are making available unprecedented new learning opportunities, through platforms such as Coursera, iTunes U and a host of other venues. (Go on—it’s summertime: Browse a bit!) I have several friends with freshly minted PhDs who have recently attained university teaching jobs; as they often say, “With respect to online education, it’s not a matter of if—only when.” They are right. The sooner our best minds grapple with that reality—especially if we can find creative ways to introduce socialization as an essential element of online learning, the better it will be for tomorrow’s college students, and for our country as a whole. Today, as my colleague Andrew Kelly points out, one in three student loan debtors will inherit an entirely avoidable increase in their student loans—which will double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Amidst this larger backdrop, your friends at Values & Capitalism will be thinking as creatively as we can about smart ways to make available our best learning: putting top conference presentations online, developing short videos to introduce you to new scholarship, and finding creative ways to facilitate your involvement in our work, through peer learning opportunities and other interaction with leading AEI scholars poised to help U.S. academic institutions flourish, not falter, in the coming decades.