Monday, June 29, 2020

The Great Education Bubble Machine

Glenn Reynolds flagged the higher education bubble nearly a decade ago.

America is facing a higher education bubble. Like the housing bubble, it is the product of cheap credit coupled with popular expectations of ever-increasing returns on investment, and as with housing prices, the cheap credit has caused college tuitions to vastly outpace inflation and family incomes.

Institutes of higher education ignored the warnings and continued their great expansion under the operating premise that “if we build it, they will come.” And come they did: an ever increasing pool of unqualified, remedial ‘stew-dense’ without the basic skills to figure out that an $80-100k a degree that qualifies them for an entry level job doesn’t have a promising payback potential.

Then came the Great Reckoning in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic.

NYU prof: ‘Hundreds, if not thousands’ of universities will soon be ‘walking dead.’ “An NYU professor of marketing says the coronavirus will result in many schools closing in coming years. Students aren’t getting their money’s worth, and the pandemic has exposed that, he says.”

Apparently college administrators are beginning to smell the coming declination. Expect their solution to be the same as any business - as that is what they’ve become – increased advertising budgets and special promotions. Case in point, this ad for Eastern Michigan University’s fall semester currently running on a local TV stations. EMU is currently offering (for a limited time only!) “signing” bonuses, the promise of single occupancy dorm rooms and the waiving of entrance test scores (because they are both meaningless and racist). Oh, and did I mention your own bottle of hand sanitizer?

This article chronicles (with admiration) a few of the facility excesses universities have invested in recently. Let’s start with one of the college towns recently in the news for their woke-fueled anarchy: The University of Wisconsin, Madison. Their student union building, completed in 2011 at a cost of $95 million, is just the place to stake out your safe space.

Created with the input of some 36,000 students, Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) is a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, 277,000-square-foot, LEED-Gold-certified student union with an art gallery, bowling alley, climbing wall, billiard hall, movie theater, restaurants, hotel, and banquet hall. It has drawn praise from many, but also criticism from some for its seeming financial extravagance---usually by those who don’t realize student fees pay for much of the construction costs over time. However, even if student fees and revenues were not behind Union South, the simple truth is the battle to attract and keep students is raging, so a few conveniences are no longer a luxury.

Got that? Universities are no longer pantheons of higher learning, they are cash cows. And they need a never ending supply of cash flow generators (stew-dense) to keep the scam running. They are hardly alone; this fine offering is from the public university of Kennesaw State, Georgia:

The Commons, a 54,000-square-foot dining hall…one of the largest LEED-Gold-certified college dining halls in the U.S.. In addition to its impressive size and tiny environmental footprint is its overall focus: the health of its students and success of local businesses. Its modified farm-to-table (a.k.a. farm-to-campus) focus means most of the food and ingredients at The Commons are from local and campus farms. In addition, there are nutritional and wellness programs, an on-site herb garden, gluten-free and vegan food options, and ties to a community garden involving school kids and local residents.

And this gem, from the University of Akron:

Although, on its surface, UA’s Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC) seems more like a playground than a necessity. Walking into this 295,000-square-foot structure with its leisure pool, lazy river, 30-person spa, workout center, exercise studios, five gyms, and 54-foot climbing wall, one may think they have entered a very large, fancy health club. They may also begin to wonder whether a public university really needs a building like this. However, when you realize that Ohio can have long, cold winters, severely limiting what many students can do to de-stress and stay physically and emotionally healthy, having a sizeable indoor activities center that can accommodate as many students as possible starts to make a great deal of sense.

It might make sense to the stew-dense but at $12,000 a year in tuition ($16,000 out of state) plus $13,000 room and board - or a cost of $100,000+ for a 4 year degree - it doesn’t make dollars and cents for most.

Higher Education Bubble: Another Brick in the Wall?

All we need is relaxation, recreation, farm-to-table dining and safe spaces.

  Maybe we should rethink this whole thing. We don’t seem to do learning very well.