Will the Higher Education Bubble Burst?

It is not uncommon for people to speak about the bursting of economic bubbles like that the housing bubble in 2008 and the Dot-com bubble in 1999/2000. One does not typically think of higher education as a market whose overall worth could plummet sharply. However, as economies around the world experience recession, jobs fade and many turn to higher education as a means to better their job prospects.

In the US–the grad school capital of the world–job prospects for those holding graduate degrees–including degrees in the humanities–are becoming more and more grim. PhDs are having to accept more and more adjunct gigs instead of much deserved tenure track jobs. In addition, the supply of lawyers in the US has–for the first time–exceeded demand. Furthermore, tuition hikes and the growth of student loan debt (which has recently overtaken credit card debt) are making grad school less appealing. There are also limits to educational inflation. The question, therefore, is, will a persistently weak job market, exorbitant tuition and the prospect of back breaking debt deter students from higher education? I do not ask this question–like self proclaimed pundits–in order to predict a false apocalypse and ignore the eruption at hand (Cf. Arab Spring and Occupy Movements), but rather I ask the question with the hope for ‘educational reform.’ The world could use more Maria Montessoris and Rifa’ah al-Tahtawis these days. Our Bismarckian education system is long due for a makeover.

In countries like Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other developing countries, one cannot even say that the education bubble has burst, because the entire education system has long since collapsed. Well educated Arabs are often unemployed and engineers and medical doctors drive cabs. The joke in Cairo is, if you’re feeling ill ride a cab and have the driver diagnose your illness. It is little surprise that so many demonstrators in the Arab Spring and Occupy Movements are students and recent graduates. Not simply because youth love protest, but because unemployment–in some cases even after grad school–and student loan debt remain a huge problem.

It is important to realize during this moment in history, as people are demonstrating in order to overthrow corrupted despots and banks that educational reform is a just cause and an investment in a society’s welfare and a great source of enlightenment.

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One thought on “Will the Higher Education Bubble Burst?

  1. TIME recently had an article about the education bubble. Will try to find it and fwd it iA. Very interesting read. It’s a shame that there’s such a high pricetag on learning and that so many leave colleges either ill prepared for the workforce or unable to find suitable positions, and get stuck with a mountain of debt.

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