College bubble

The higher education bubble is bursting, writes David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute. “Between 2000 and 2005, the average wages of college graduates declined after adjusting for inflation,” he writes. College graduates have flooded the market. There may be jobs for the CalTech math major with a 4.0 grade point average, but not for the graduate with “a 2.8 communications degree from San Francisco State University.”

Not only are students not getting the economic payoff they expect, Frum writes, many aren’t getting a good education.

It’s often at the costliest universities that students are able to graduate with a degree in English without ever having read Shakespeare, a degree in history despite ignorance of the Civil War, or one in art history without ever having encountered the Renaissance.

In their own ways, universities indulge in some of the worst faults of the corporate sector, overcharging their customers in order to allow managers and staff to engage in wasteful or destructive activities that could never be justified on their own.

Universities need to rethink their practices, Frum writes.

Why does it take four years to complete a BA degree? Maybe liberal arts studies make more sense later in life?

For that matter, “maybe tough high school exit exams would serve the needs of employers who currently insist on a BA not for its own sake but as proof that a student was not too lazy or aimless to get one.”

Frum is responding to a Chronicle of Higher Education column arguing that four-year colleges need to become much more efficient to compete with online institutions and community colleges.