Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. When the Tide Goes Out, You Find Out Who’s Been Swimming Naked
After all the chaos of the election, I wanted to take an edition just to catch up on some news that slipped through the cracks over the past few months.
The biggest non-election news is the coronavirus pandemic, which is roaring back for a brutal third wave, and I’ll be devoting a separate edition to that next week. For now, I want to cover an under-appreciated aspect of the pandemic: It is finally bursting the higher education bubble.
There has been a lot of speculation in recent years about higher education being yet another economic “bubble,” like the housing market in the late 2000s. As with housing, decades of subsidies and government-back loans intended to make college “affordable” actually made it more expensive, driving tuition rates up by 400% over a period of 30 years. If something cannot go on forever, it won’t, so colleges faced an eventual reckoning in which bloated tuition–and bloated administrative payroll, which is where a lot of that money got soaked up–would eventually have to fall back to earth.
As of a few years ago, here’s what it looked like: “The higher-education market is not bursting, like a popped soap bubble; but it is leaking, like a pierced balloon.”
The pandemic is speeding this up. Major crises tend to do that. I remember talking with a friend in the late 2000s about how print publications were fading in favor of digital media, which is why I was retooling my own work. But then the financial crisis hit in 2008, and a transition that looked it was going to phase in over a decade happened almost overnight.
That’s what the pandemic is doing to higher education, as people are balking at the prospect of paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for their kids to watch lectures on Zoom. This has prompted memes comparing the price of college to the prices of other online video streaming services.
Hence a wave of layoffs that started over the summer.
The rest of this edition is available only by e-mail to paid subscribers.