Monday, May 16, 2016
The Other Legacy of the For-Profit College Boom
Why are student enrollments declining at lots of higher-ed institutions? These declines result from relatively flat high school graduation rates, the high cost of a college education, plus an increasing perception that a college diploma from any institution less than Princeton or Williams is really not worth all that much in the current job market, certainly not worth acquiring a lifetime of debt.
It is still true that college graduates have a lower unemployment rate than those with just a high-school diploma, but even with a college degree in hand, good full-time jobs that pay decent salaries and benefits are often difficult for graduates to find, and a lot of graduating students end up living at home with their parents and working in a series of low-paying temporary gigs while they chase after that elusive full-time position that they presumably trained for at college. I think that the unemployment statistics can give a somewhat misleading picture—a recent college graduate who is now bagging groceries at the local supermarket still counts as being “employed”.
Top-tier research universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Stanford, MIT and Caltech, and super-selective liberal arts schools such as Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, and Swarthmore will probably always be OK, since they generally receive far more student applications than they can possibly accept. But some lower-tier and less-prestigious academic institutions are faced with declining student enrollments. The decline in enrollments has become so severe that some of these institutions have been faced with having to close their doors. On the average, about five nonprofit schools close down every year, Burlington College being an example.
College enrollment seems to track inversely with the overall state of the economy. When there is an economic downturn, the job market gets tighter, young people find it harder to get decent jobs, and larger numbers of students choose to go to college in the hopes of improving their lot. But when the economy improves, more young people are able to get jobs and fewer numbers of them choose to attend college.
These financial problems only promise to get worse in the future, and some financial experts predict that the rate of college closings will increase greatly over the next few years.
The future of higher ed does not look bright. Rising costs, declining revenues, more layoffs, more schools closing their doors, and more out-of-work faculty members.