College TownMarch 11, 2022
College is a lubricant of social mobility, a vaccine against a creeping caste system, and a key that unlocks the American dream. Yet over the past 40 years, it’s become more difficult to access and more expensive, staying more the “same” (i.e., stale) than nearly any offering. We can scale social media platforms from thousands to billions of users, turn Porsches into SUVs, and lift billions of people out of poverty globally, but we can’t shape a college education beyond a four-year tour of auditoriums and projectors.
The sector is ripe for disruption. In any other industry, innovators would have moved in long ago. But higher education is different: It’s got iconic brands (Apple and Coca-Cola have nothing on Stanford and MIT), a self-policing “accreditation” system, and an unholy alliance with the financial industry ($1.7 trillion in student loan debt). So things keep getting worse. And the worst of the worst are the elite schools, who’ve doubled down on their rejectionist cultures even as their endowments have exploded. The share of the student population enrolled at elite schools has been declining for decades. “Let’s build something wonderful, so we can share it with almost nobody,” said every Ivy League President. #Gross.
A bright spot? Our great public universities. For example, the University of California, which recently set a goal to add 20,000 more seats by 2030. But the sun of UC’s good intentions has experienced a partial eclipse of Nimbyism (Nimby = not in my backyard). This town-gown dispute is indicative of the challenges facing higher ed, and our country.
Sociology 104B: Studies in Nimby
UC Berkeley has expanded its enrollment just 1.3% per year since I graduated in the nineties. More Berkeley grads is good for California, America, and the world. Berkeley boasts the second most Nobel Prize winners of all U.S. universities, produces the most Peace Corps volunteers, and is the nation’s fourth-largest manufacturer of Olympic medalists.
However … more UC Berkeley doesn’t appeal to some Berkeley residents, who like the cultural accoutrements of a college town, just not college students or the housing they need. In 2019, the City of Berkeley and a neighborhood group sued to freeze the school’s enrollment.
The city and the university cut a deal: UC Berkeley agreed to pay $82.6 million to the city over 16 years (double its previously planned payout) to account for the increased burden on city services, and the city dropped its lawsuits and endorsed the university’s growth. Seems reasonable.
Except that the neighborhood group wasn’t satisfied with 80 million bucks. It continued its lawsuit and won — relying on an environmental law from the 1970s that observers say was never meant to police population growth, let alone higher education. The kicker? The enrollment “baseline” year is 2020, when enrollment cratered, thanks to the pandemic, so the freeze will require the university to cut 3,000 students (2,000 undergrads and 1,000 graduates) from its anticipated 2022-23 enrollment. To minimize the reductions, Berkeley will tell more than a thousand new undergrads they have to take their first semester online and require another 600 to defer until 2023.
Economics 316A: Churn, Baby, Churn
The median sale price for a home in Berkeley is $1.6 million, nearly four times the national average. And prices keep going up (12% in the last year). Berkeley homeowners are the beneficiaries of a long economic boom — a boom that came in no small part courtesy of UC Berkeley’s graduates and researchers. On the other side of the backyard fence, UC Berkeley and its students are the arbiters of change, the potential for a better future. But what we witness incessantly in America is people who’ve benefited from our innovation economy pulling the ladder up behind them.
In 1940 a 37-year-old had a 92% chance of earning more than their parents did at the same age; a 37-year-old today has a 50% chance. It’s never been more expensive to buy a home. Since 1989, young people’s wealth relative to their income has declined, while older people’s has grown. Put another way, the old are getting richer and the young poorer.
And while the younger generation is down, we boomers continue to kick them. Today, two-thirds of jobs require a postsecondary education and training, but college costs have increased 150% faster than average earnings of 22- to 27-year-olds since 1980. We spend 7% of our federal budget on children — the only OECD nation that spends less on kids is Turkey.
Old people don’t want change. They want scarcity and ossification, because it protects what they have. Young people are different — they want churn and growth, so they, too, can go buy a nice house and turn into Nimbyists.
In Berkeley, it’s likely California will carve an exception to the law for the UC system, but housing for students is still in critically short supply, and next year there will be another battle, another lawsuit. We can’t scale America’s colleges one lawsuit at a time.
College towns are victims of their own success, bringing character and culture that benefit residents who register appreciation — and then want to create a scarcity ecosystem that will further buttress their wealth and lifestyle. University leaders need to adapt to a scarcity mindset in which companies, graduates, and homeowners all want less access once they have theirs.
Urban Planning 485A (Senior Seminar): Thinking Outside the B(erkeley)ox
You know who would welcome 50,000 of California’s brightest students and most-accomplished researchers? Fresno. Or Davis. Or Bakersfield. Any town north of Sacramento or east of Los Angeles. Governor Newsom, if you want an unlock, build a campus in Fresno. Build a high-speed rail system from Fresno to the Bay Area and weave the tech industry into a new community.
That’s just a start. Our elite private schools have become enamored with satellite campuses, but they’re mostly fond of the checks autocratic regimes are willing to write to wrap themselves in the comfortable blanket of academic credibility. Building a satellite campus in Abu Dhabi (my employer’s innovation) is arbitraging the brand, not expanding the franchise. Same goes for most executive education, where a mid-level manager gets her company to pay $30,000 for six days across two on-campus “immersions” during a “multi-modal” experience so she can post a Chief Digital Officer certification from Kellogg/Penn/Columbia on her LinkedIn profile. Big Ed(ucation) is beginning to make Big Tech seem noble.
The elite should be building campuses in places that would welcome the investment instead of filing lawsuits — cities such as Albuquerque, Cleveland, Tulsa, etc. This would diversify the elite’s currently cloistered experience, worldview, and politics. Meanwhile, doubling a city’s degree production increases local human capital levels by 7%. Household incomes in college towns are 7.4% higher than in noncollege towns. Jesus, what could a second MIT do for Mississippi?
I wrote in New York magazine in 2020 that the truly elite universities would leverage their brand equity and technology to scale and consolidate the market. I could not have been more wrong. A rejectionist, Hermès-style positioning is their drug of choice, and they are speedballing the sleet.
Lean into the online-hybrid model. We tried this during Covid, and it worked … sort of. The missing ingredient from college in 2020 was socialization. But there’s no reason to believe that would disappear if we moved classes online. In 2011, 87% of college students lived off campus, and that didn’t stop them from going to bars, dating, and forming special-interest groups. Nineteen-year-olds aren’t good at much, but they’re great at getting their hearts broken, getting drunk and high, and having unprotected sex … at scale. Life finds a way. We tend to speak in binary terms: traditional experience or all online. It will be a mix. If we took 33% of our classes online (and we can), we could increase capacity by 50%. But this can’t be an afterthought or an emergency measure — distance education done well requires investment and new skills.
Here’s a pedestrian fix: Go the way of Dartmouth — quarterly.
Most college campuses sit near-empty for three months a year, an egregious waste of capital investment. But Dartmouth’s quarterly calendar means undergraduate classes continue throughout the summer. This makes sense; summer vacation is a relic we inherited from previous generations whose buildings didn’t have AC and who needed their kids to come home to work on the family farm.
A key to increasing seats may be to transfer the costs of college from students to corporations. The average cost of hiring an employee is $4,000. Why not lump those recruiting costs into a subsidy partnership with a university and provide early access to young talent? This would let talent-hungry companies build a pipeline from campus to HQ. Transfer the costs and burdens of career centers to the companies that benefit from them.
Some companies are already doing it: Starbucks started teaming up with Arizona State University in 2015 — its applicant pool increased by more than half a million, and 63% of new hires expressed interest in the partnership.
Could we put higher ed on the blockchain? Could a university rethink its relationship with the community and tie access to a token? Something like this: Stanford mints 100,000 tokens and auctions them to the public. Each Cardinal Coin gives the bearer unique access to the Stanford community: a vote on major policy changes, entrance to sporting and cultural events, and a seat in any Stanford degree-granting program (subject to minimum standards). Every January 1, another 3,000 coins — no more — are minted and sold at auction. Say, the first trade of the coin offering is at $1 million to $10 million a coin. If you have two kids, you’re looking at savings of nearly $500,000 in tuition alone, and the access would create a bidding war for a store of value that would also attract speculative investors.
What would guaranteed admission, tuition, alumni events, community access, etc. be worth? Let’s be conservative and peg the value at the lower end, $1 million per coin. This translates to $100 billion in new capital, with another $3 billion in revenue coming in every year thereafter. That quadruples the endowment, increases investment income, and lowers costs (admissions and development departments would no longer be needed). Unrivaled capital to open satellite campuses, invest in the next generation of distance learning tech, or just build more dorms.
Would this turn Stanford into the exclusive preserve of the wealthy? Elite universities already are. The wealthy game the system with multimillion-dollar donations (aka the Kushner Krush) or try to bribe someone (Aunt Becky). The Cardinal Coin, putting this all out in the open, could facilitate diversity and merit-based aid. Philanthropists could (will) purchase coins and assign the rights associated with them however they choose — to kids from low-income households with strong academic achievement, or to unremarkable kids raised by single mothers who show promise but could never get into a school that now only admits 9% of applicants, vs. 74% when I applied. #GoBruins.
This was a suggestion from Stig Leschly.
Any naval personnel meeting basic requirements can show up to SEAL tryouts, but the program starts tough and gets tougher — admissions by attrition.
What if an elite university had an adjunct campus that implemented the academic equivalent of SEAL training? No admissions department — whoever makes it through the first semester is admitted. Wouldn’t this also create fierce, resilient, strong capitalist warriors? Warriors chosen for their skills, strength, and grit vs. who their parents are?
The tip of the spear for America, higher education, has become markedly less American over the past several decades. We need massive investment and a rejection of the rejectionist and scarcity mindset to return higher ed to its rightful place as an upward lubricant for kids whose parents aren’t rich and who haven’t peaked at 17. We also need to expect more from university leaders, who’ve had little incentive to innovate or rock the boat. Technology is not the key element for the requisite innovation; class traitors are. Deans and chancellors who push back on faculty and alumni and the dangerous notion that we are luxury brands, not public servants.
Also, Berkeley homeowners, stop it. Just stop it.
Life is so rich,
P.S. I started Section4 to give people greater access to business education and the network that comes with it. We’ve got plans to expand that access even further — look out for big news from us next week.
Scott, any discussion of CA real estate needs to highlight Prop 13 of 1978. This law fixed the annual rate of property tax increases at about 1% on ALL REAL ESTATE ASSETS (i.e. multifamily, commercial, etc…). This is INSANE. There are San Fransisco homes with market values well over 7 figures with annual property tax rates in the 3 figures. Imagine paying $800 a year in property tax on a $2,000,000 home. Why would you ever sell? Throw in kafkaesque environmental laws, zoning restrictions, rent regulation, non-recourse mortgages, and we are left with an entire generation of CA youth that will never be able to afford a home as well as the 2nd highest Gini index in the US.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the prop 13 tax break was funded by cuts to education.
CA’s real estate market is beyond screwed up. Prop 13 has to be the greatest transfer of wealth from the Have Nots to the Haves in US history.
College is becoming over rated (unless you want to be a doctor or lawyer ect).
Learning a trade is better in the long run for most people.
I appreciate these problems and the polemic is from a US context.
Some of what you recommend happens in the UK already:branded “outlets” abroad, and the long standing, lower debt, flexible learning approach of the “Open University”.
Far from perfect, some of the same complaints, but better.
Also..could you put your time where your mouth is and see if you could teach courses via Open University, as part of accredited degree programmes they offer? Can be done remotely, you would need to benchmark the support tutelage that backs up the course as first support line from students.
Most people who attended an elite college don’t want to let more students in, and see their elite status watered down. Elitism requires exclusivity. Further, you fail to recognize the role employers play in this farce. Employers hire from elite colleges (and law schools in my experience) because employers are lazy and risk-averse, and because employers use attendance at an elite school as a proxy for IQ tests (which employers will not use directly – for legal or cosmetic reasons). An employee could get the same education from a library and the internet as from Harvard (Goodwill Hunting), but Wall Street banks and law firms want to see the Harvard diploma because it indicates 1) high likelihood (not always the case) the employee has a high IQ, and 2) that employee will do what “the man” tells him/her to do. Elite colleges will remain expensive and in high demand so long as elite employers refuse to open their hiring process to “alternative” applicants.
One of the best sessions for SXSW EDU was from Matt Scogin. He has been the senior advisor to the under secretary of domestic finance at the U.S. Department of the Treasury as well as worked at NYSE Euronext, serving as the senior vice president and chief of staff at the 3,000-person company that ran the New York Stock Exchange as well as five exchanges in Europe.
At 42 years of age he is 20 years younger than the average university president’s age.
Book him in to your pod to hear his views on why tuition has risen 900% in the last 40 years and will continue to rise, what the impact is for rising education costs, and what Hope College, where he is the president, is doing to address the challenges you go on about every week.
Have you booked him in yet? : )
ps. Thanks for all of the work you are doing! I’m an alumnus of Section4 and recommend it highly.
Thank you, Scott, for your leadership and provocative dialogue about the transformations emerging within the education and learning. Technology is accelerating the need for humans to upskill and retrain themselves multiple times through their careers. We need to increase our adaptability, our ability to learn and re-learn, and prepare for jobs not yet even conceived. Technology has not changed value proposition that residential education provides at the commencement of a career – it’s still just as valuable as ever. Efforts to increase accessibility and affordability are necessary and are absolutely critical to enabling economic progress in our society.
The pandemic exposed significant technology skills gaps in our economy. As technology adoption accelerates, we are now keenly aware of the need to utilize technology to enable individuals to quickly train for new jobs; and to continue their educational progression while in the workplace. This need will endure. It offers opportunities for entrepreneurial organizations and bold institutions to partner with corporations to build new lifelong learning enterprises to meet this market demand.
There are several leaders who are doing the hard work of adaptation and many who are leading the way. Thank you for the role you are playing in this important transformation.
Does the legacy chart control for lurking variables? Children of alumni often attend similar high schools and receive similar academic support as their parents, which makes it more likely that they are qualified for admission. Most highly selective colleges don’t actually weigh legacies that heavily in the selection process, but those students tend to do better in the process due to their personal and educational circumstances.
I like your articles but, I find them way too dense with unnecesarilyy pedantic words. Your charts are some good vs. some way not good. My test is my wife, a USC grad, who couldn’t understand AT ALL your first chart and half f the others. (I’m still not sure about that first chart. either). Please keep generating the good ideas and please think about the leaded phrases that are full of atoms but no one can lift them. Below I give you an example. The same idea written two ways. The first sentence in quotes is a wide-audience phrasing. The second is (I take liberties with ‘proletariat’) how you normally write the very same idea.
1. “I support your ideas about the need for a truly open national college policy that expands admission to everyone, not just the wealthy or the well-connected. ”
2. “I support your perspective on broad-based inclusionary university admissions policy that would lead to greater inclusivity and less pervasive prejudice against the proletariat.”
Like for example, what the heck does the below set of sentences really mean?
I wrote in New York magazine in 2020 that the truly elite universities would leverage their brand equity and technology to scale and consolidate the market. I could not have been more wrong. A rejectionist, Hermès-style positioning is their drug of choice, and they are speedballing the sleet.
Excellent article. Quick point- Harvard already has a version of the “admission by attrition” model at the Harvard Extension School. It’s an excellent school that lets anyone enroll in courses and provides degree admission to those with a B+ or better. Remarkably, the percentage of those who graduate as opposed to the Rita who enroll in a course is around 1%. It’s tough but if you want that degree you gotta earn it. Love this model.
Nobody respects the Harvard Extension School. It’s a diploma mill whose sole purpose is to generate revenue for the school. Hell, HES students don’t even get access to the Harvard Alumni network.
Realistically, who in America doesn’t have access to college? Yes, tuition is higher, but anyone can get in.
Maybe we should stop telling 18 year olds they need a liberal arts degree and let them be baristas w/o the college loan burden.
Scott, the NYU degree that you sell is COMPLETELY overpriced. My spouse owns one, as do several of my colleagues, and they don’t get paid for it. Stop pedaling over priced Ed (your sprint course) and talking about the fallacy that it gets people ahead.
Hard work gets you ahead, not prestigious degrees Realistically, most people that own their landscaping company make more than an NYU grad.
Spoken from a lowly public Education person running a business.
You with your capitalist warriors again… People like you, I imagine. We don’t need any more capitalist warriors like you, thank you very much. You made a lot of money for yourself, but nothing of use to anyone else. No vaccines, no antibiotics, not nuclear reactors, or biodegradable plastics. Can’t wait for AI to replace all those managers and CEOs. US Berkeley is a great school, but the data you use is flawed. Adding alumni AND faculty is a noisy metric – a Nobel prize winner usually has 1 undergrad alma mater, but can change several unis faculty postings. Top 5 US universities producing Nobel Prize winners per student (educational metrics) are Caltech, Harvard, Swarthmore, MIT, and Columbia. And no, we don’t need to expand the good universities. What we need is to make education there tuition free + living stipend for those who qualify academically = economic egalitarianism, intellectual elitism. Start with Berkeley. And guys like you can go to University of Phoenix to get your BAs in gescheft and applied peddling. Free up some dorms.
I concur, business stands to benefit the most from an educated workforce, they should do more to ensure that America remains competitive.
Food for thought
Maybe the “young” should stop buying $300 plus Michael Jordan runners.
Ha, funny you should mention Tulsa. Bob Dylan, yes that Bob Dylan, is opening his “center”, or his Presidential library, if you will, in that town. So, hey, if he can do it, why not MIT?
I particularly liked the Navy Seal idea. However, bear in mind that no one solution is going to fix the larger problem to much of an extent. Note too that a variant of the Navy Seal system is in fact the operating system for admission to elite universities across Asia – India, Singapore, China, South Korea. It also has a terribly ugly side of huge societal costs, mental health problems, suicides, so much so that even China has stepped in to control that. Balance in everything, we seem to have lost sense of that here in America.
Switzerland is running the Navy Seal system for domestic students for years with good success. Austria is pretty similiar.
ETH, a top 10 worldwide university, has many free admission programs. I personally did an exchange semester at St. Gallen, the best-ranked school in the German-speaking world (DACH). The Swiss first-year students are put through a brutal trial by fire for 12 months, but I find it fair but brutal system.
We had a satellite campus and students wouldn’t want to take these classes. They ended up closing it down. They spent a fortune on it. I had students coming to the satellite campus and then racing back to the main campus right after.
Cut the admin bloat.
It would help if employers stopped going overboard on jobs that “require a college degree”. When my son was looking for summer work we saw a posting by Lowe’s for somebody to load purchases into customer vehicles. One of the job requirements was to have at least six months experience loading purchases into customer vehicles. Really? I have a 20+ background in HR and recruiting and have seen job descriptions that go way overboard on the requirements, including having a college degree. Not only do the jobs require somebody has a degree but they also want somebody who’s fully trained and ready to be successful on day one. Not only do employers need to scale back on jobs requiring degrees, they also need to be willing to put in the time and effort to train people.
Some state universities have used the Navy Seals approach. Any witha high school diploma can enroll but the courses are brutal and they flunk people. I think Ohio state used to work this route.
The students who have the grit to get through a navy seal course are probably already going to be fine. The task is reconciling equity with rigor. I haven’t figured that one out yet. My students who fail mostly fail because they don’t come to class.
Very insightful article – thanks for raising some possibilities for future change actions.
The cozy relationship between government and higher ed has been ripe for review for ages. Purdue University brought in conservative ex-governor Mitch Daniels as president on the promise he would make big changes. The liberals, just like those who control most every college, came unglued. They signed petitions, threatened to quit and some refused to execute his changes. Ten years later Purdue is the only major school who hasn’t increased tuition nor housing one dollar. The amount of waste at these schools is shameful. Daniels’ model should be analyzed and replicated.
Can’t believe I am seeing my country, Malaysia be featured here! And yes, we are very big on college satellite campuses because many students can’t get into local universities due to racial quotas and the next best alternative is a named brand local campus here (e.g. Monash University, Notttingham University, and many many more)
Thanks for opening the curtain on a university system gone off the rails. Consider eliminating “elite” as the default adjective to describe institutions (Ivy League, Stanford, etc) doing significant damage to higher education and the college admissions process. It sends a subliminal message that no matter what you say after, elite is the word that sticks. Akil Bello suggests substituting “highly selective, highly rejective”, which better describes their current purpose.
I want to suggest Module 7 – Mandatory short course for high school sophomores and their parents – “The truth about college rankings.” We need to start debunking the myth of undergraduates attending “elite” colleges and universities. First, students and parents need to know that undergraduate admissions is really a combined Department of Marketing and PR. Rankings are hardly worth the paper they are printed on. Honestly, who are the individuals preparing the rankings. it is almost impossible to know because they all likely have vested interests in placing “their school” on some kind of a Iist, any list. Also, a critical fact is that if a school has indeed an appropriately assigned high value, it is for a specific individual or group of GRADUATE degrees, not the undergraduate programs. It is certainly wonderful if an undergraduate can attend and live on campus in a lovely and cultured college town. But is that worth thousands of dollars of debt with payments starting upon graduation? It seems that the whole idea of “getting an education” is very low on the student priority list, as well as that of the administration and board of trustees. Any student can get a “good education” at a nearby community college, where tuition is low or non-existent. After two years that student can transfer to a nearby state university and complete their studies in two more years, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree. I have a doctorate paid for by a national fellowship program and have worked with undergraduate and graduate admissions offices, as well as giving Master’s Level courses. Even more important is that I was a Vice President of Human Resources at a non-profit company. I have reviewed more resumes than I care to count and not once was I so impressed by the applicant’s alma mater that I put them at the top of the stack. Instead HR officers look for the right knowledge, skills, experience and personal characteristics that fit with the position that is open. Hype is another word for crap, our high school students and parents need to know how to wade through it and make intelligent decisions about the college to attend.
It is not plausible for every kid to graduate with a STEM degree.
A second problem is the implied endorsement of the now discredited human capital theory.
Thirdly, has no one heard of credential inflation? Schools love credential inflation, especially advanced degrees. Follow the money.
Stop with the on-line classes. Percentage-wise kids dont like on-line classes. You must have read the social and mental issues kids have faced with on-line school during Covid. Kids actually meet friends, create study groups, etc. having met in class. You dont know what you`re talking about. Get a degree in this area first and then spout off.
Agreed. “Deans and chancellors who push back on faculty and alumni and the dangerous notion that we are luxury brands, not public servants.”
Where’s the disruption? More students than ever. More universities than ever, yet the modern university is dead. ‘The University in Ruins ‘announced by Bill Readings in 1996 is now dust. Yes, organisational change is needed, but the real challenge is overthrowing hegemonic instrumentalism and creating a pedagogic post-disciplinary project able to address the deep defuturing crises of the age.
You illustrated the limits DNC/Woke Liberalism of California – environmental, legal, and financial. ‘Build a HSR system’. We started to. A COMPLETE Governor Brown disaster, a multi-hundred billion dollar political mess. Thankfully limited to a small area and now DEAD. ‘Build UC campus near Fresno”? Great, we put a new one in Merced, up 101 a ways, few want to attend. Young Wokes want to be in Berkeley, or West LA. Build more in non-urban areas, they will be more white elephant for the taxpayers. A UC eduction is, apparently, less important than the number of Ethiopian restaurants and smoke shops near Berkele campus. Or Westwood boutiques if you want UCLA.. And, finally the NIMBY types. Standard fodder for leftist comedians, now part of the mainstream rich left cities. Berkeley is banning natural gas hookups, why would we expect them to want more carbon-emitting Freshmen? We have met the enemy, they are us. Young people and their snob parents are the issue here, too many things about a college more important than the quality and cost of education.
Scott,why did you quote the median price home price in Berkeley,then compare it to the national average? Apples to oranges don’t you think?
Scott, how come you still work at NYU?
Excellent article; comprehensive and provocative. Our system in Australia is very different.
Typo; “accoutrement” should be accoutrement. Also you have socialization, but I think you mean socializing.
Keep up the great work!
My bad! You said, “accouterments” but it should be accoutrements. LOL
Scott, I couldn’t agree more. This is a MASSIVE failure of our current system and it needs disruption. Keep preaching, sir!
We need to separate the benefits of a college education (i.e. the research and the learning) from the costs (i.e. the real estate) let’s get hybrid online education fully functional, let’s combine it with satellite campuses in cities throughout the US.
Colleges are like plumbing, in that both rely in the “priesthood effect”. There was a time that you couldn’t buy plumbing parts unless you knew the difference between a regular elbow and a street elbow. Home Depot blew that up. It’s time to blow up the Ivy League priesthood. There are hundreds of excellent small colleges and state colleges with great faculties. The learning environment is small class sizes with professors that actually teach and the teaching assistants are there to help, not to play god.
It is unfortunate that this aura of greatness surrounds the so called “best” schools.
Excellent as always. I can’t help wondering about this though. If everyone gets a college education, we will still need folks to do the jobs that don’t require such credentials, but might if everyone has higher education. I think you essentially touched on this in your essay, but it may be a big issue. At the beginning of my career, one could have a pretty responsible job with a college degree. Now it seems a lot of recent graduates with Masters degrees are fighting for entry positions. Perhaps we should focus more on apprenticeships and other means of providing fulfilling employment to folks who don’t need to craft economic models to provide a contribution to society.
Great article, but I need to quibble about the first part. I live in a college town with similar problems as in Berkeley. UC Berkeley grows and grows but doesn’t build any housing on their own land. They can’t even house all of the first years anymore. Their actions are “nimby” not the residents.
I really like your idea of investing in other cities. Maybe Cal students could do one year (soph or junior) at a satellite location. That would allow Cal to grow by 25%!
Love to see a Navy SEAL + Corporate Hybrid – Imagine the work force a company would build if you let the talent compete for elite education AND a company subsidized these winners. YIkes!
As always, an excellent read and targeted. Perhaps in a future edition you can address the student housing rort and the thinking that the best approach toward creating a stable learning environment is to move young people about to step from structured to self-driven education to the other side of the country. Away from all of the stabilizing elements supporting focus on studies. While relearning math and English.
Wow. I am bummed by this article. Seriously? You rant against the NIMBYs in Berkeley who made it through the labyrinth to the other side, but then want to solve the problem of inequitable access to elite higher ed institutions by selling them off to the highest (AKA most elite) bidders? Greeeaaatt. So much better. That’ll really help those in the lower income quartiles. NOT. Please. You don’t think those high bidders will also come from China and Qatar and any crooked sleazeball with money? And then to sell their graduates out to corporations? Maybe pregnant women with promising genes can sell coins to their fetuses too. Have you given up completely on the notion of social equity? We do live in an upside down unfair system, but it was created by the very people to whom you would like to give unfettered control over our educational institutions. Open up the barriers to investment held up by the bourgeoisie so the almighty engines of finance can do their will, hey? F democracy! Viva la dinero! So bummed, Scott.
Too much here to cover in a a single response. I largely reject the idea that HE is ripe for disruption. I have been in this fieled for nearly 40 years. That mantra was being spewed in 1982. The reality is that many institutions have greatly evolved with a mix of near term credentials, new degrees, workforce programs, more opportunities to earn college credit while in high school, and a much greater connection to industry. One can bemoan that connection, but it is an evolution that meets student needs. Second, in some parts of the country, public colleges remain a truly great bargain…and the ROI is high for those who graduate. Thirdly, colleges and universities showed themselves to be far more nimble than most expected when Covid started. Institutions that need disruption don’t commonly pivot so quickly. However, on my campus students flocked back when the time was right. Finally- yes, Berkeley- just stop it.
Agreed! I like SG’s writing but when writing about HE, he tends to fixate on a handful of elite schools and ignore the experiences of the majority of college students (including the 35% who are enrolled in America’s community colleges).
Stopped reading when it blamed the financial sector, and not irresponsible government programs, on the student loan crisis.
Keep up the self loathing Scott
Here’s some color on one way private lenders abused the system and created obvious bad loans (while still making money!) before the Feds pushed back in 2010.
Government raises loan levels, Colleges raise tuition. Social justice leaches stir up media, college hire ‘diversity;’ Profs and start useless ‘diversity’ majors to bring in more money. More first gen students get sucked in. Then out with useless degrees and massive debts. Rinse and repeat. And, demand that responsible students and parents who provided for them pay the tab. Fix that and you will fix most of the education mafia.
Super post Prof G!! Your ideas on incentivizing higher ed to expand capacity are awesome. You note the financial gains but there is status involved here too and it is a super incentive. What are your thoughts?
You have come very close to something I have thought many times about our “elite” colleges (and prep schools and private schools in general). Many people tend to think such institutions have some kind of “special sauce” that makes them actually superior at providing education. The secret really is that Harvard probably doesn’t actually know how to educate people any better than, say, Northern Arizona University, my alma mater. Which is why they will never, ever even try to take to heart your suggestions. If anyone could attend Harvard we would soon find that all kinds of people could easily pass many of their classes. Perhaps most. And then, so much for their “elite” status. Never going to happen.
In the same way, yes, MIT could do wonders for Mississippi. Well, sort of. What Mississippi really needs is some kind of “MIT” of Head Start. A “Harvard” of high schools. I am pretty sure that the University of Mississippi provides a very good education, perhaps as good as Harvard. But almost none of the kids there are ready for it. The only way that an “elite” college is going to open an actual satellite branch is to usher “elite” students (read: legacy white kids) into their “elite” jobs (read: executives in cash rich companies in stagnant sectors).
If private, elite schools had an actual educational method that actually worked better it would be a moral imperative for them to apply their methods up and down the educational system for the greater common good. But they do no such thing, because they have no secret sauce, in this case the emperor truly has no clothes.
If you don’t believe me, carry out a simple experiment. Take a look at the MOOCs from the “elite” colleges. Many include actual lectures given to students on campus. Sign up for a course that you have some background in. Read the materials, listen to the lectures. Then come back and tell me how much better those courses were then the ones you took at a state university.
Pay no attention to the “elite” educators behind the curtain!
Scott used the adjective, elite, eight times to describe a tiny selection of schools in his article. It sends a subliminal message that those highly selective/highly rejective institutions are truly better than other schools. Thank you for using quote marks to indicate a different value for “elite”.
how about an elite U/community college partnership? Elite universities enlist a dozen community colleges into a program to improve course offerings, share professors and create an onramp from an associates degree to a elite bachelor’s degree. Lots of room to innovate here. Community colleges are the #1 way to bootstrap into the middle class and beyond.
So … what you are saying is that an institution of ideas can only locate at a specific longitude and latitude? Berkley could not be Berkley unless it is in Berkley?🤔
Scott – You talk about the Dartmouth model, but the UC system has been on the quarter system for 50 years, no? Interesting and challenging ideas, but are the homeowners of Berkeley listening, or are they making reservations at Chez Panisse and French Laundry?
I appreciate this post, and agree with much of what you’re saying. But this is similar to much reporting on the state of higher education — it’s presented as a commentary on higher education, but it’s really about elite higher education (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, etc.). These elite institutions are a small slice of a much larger higher education system. Berkeley is not representative of the higher education industry any more than Porsche is representative of the auto industry. Certainly, these universities, some of which look more like hedge funds that offer education on the side, can do more to improve access. But the key to scalable access to higher education isn’t about MIT opening another campus in Alabama (not that that’s a bad idea). It’s about improving outcomes and affordability at the thousands of accessible community, public and private college campuses that we already have in Alabama and across the country.
In a nutshell: the “Academic Industrial Complex”. It’s mission is NOT education but quasi-corporate profits thru patents, copyright, intellectual property, etc. Tuition as such is simply a form of subsidization (also my taxes supporting what is effectively, ultimately INequality!)…not to mention state taxes subisidizing it as well.
As a former high level CA state employee, graduate of UC Berkeley, and former employee of UC Davis this was all admitted to me by a Director of Finance at UCD years ago. I once brought it up in a meeting of federal, state, and local GIS experts regarding GIS “education” (which was really little more than a cover for a major software developer of GIS software). As you can imagine, my statements were all highly frowned up…except for the guy from the Governor’s Office.
Oh well…life is so rich!
agree with all of the options.
However, giving everyone college credentials solves nothing really. Currently, recruiters use college as an important first filter even for jobs that dont need college. it’s inevitable once recuriting goes online – jobs that would have attracted 50 locaal applicants attract 500 or 5,000. gotta have a filer, and college is it.
that’s disastrous for young people who have the choice of exclusion from good jobs or the crushing burden of student debt.
I’m not even sure that massively growing the graduate labor pool is a solution to any known problem. I believe the data show that around half of all graduates work in jobs that dont require degrees – and Microsoft’s whining about being unable to hire enough software engineers has always struck me as bullshit, given that median pay for computer programmers is still only $88k (per DoL occupational stats).
Is it just me, or does the term “NIMBY” remind you of “Libs” or other base terms to describe something complex? Americans love their single-family homes, and instead of retiring to remote pastures, hunker down where they used to work now taking up real estate which could be used for those after them. Berkeley is far guiltier of this than most other places, with gray-haired couples residing in massive four-story homes near campus.
Worth a look when considering the higher ed ecosystem – international students paying full tuition and in effect subsidizing public education, maybe even taking seats from ‘locals’.
To be fair, I’ve experienced this firsthand on campuses and the students are often more than capable and in some cases, such as UCSD Scripps, MIT, or UCSF, foreign students critical to maintain world-class research.
I think it’s complicated. Some professors may even prefer foreign students for reasons similar to why some tech companies like green card candidates.
They are not worse, first. Second, they are dependent on the professor or the company. This may mean some “locals” are indeed left unfairly begging.
Scott you still confuse “college’ with basically being at an ELITE private school. Reality is that 70% of students attend state schools. Only about 30% of current US citizens have a college degree so only 9% have an undergrad degree from a private elite School. The data on student loan debt has been clear for some time and it is ALWAYS overstated online by people with a hidden agenda, or just people who live in an elite bubble and don’t understand most people’s experiences. The majority of students that earn a BA have debt that is in the $30-40k range which is not that bad when you think about it. It’s about a $300-400 mo payment. Higher number is for private school. Also about 42% of all students graduate without any debt. Not sure why these actual facts are not known but sharing them here so you can understand and share them.
Galloway is selling courses. The rest is shadow and dust. If it is not on higher education, he will be selling courses on fruit vending.