February 6, 2024
This is an unsteady moment for higher education, and amid the pandemic aftershocks, demographic pressures, and self-inflicted wounds, we will definitely see more colleges close or restructure with layoffs — even colleges with recognizable names. When cultural institutions or industry sectors get wobbly, the media has a tendency to pile on, declaring doom.
A recent example appeared in the The Wall Street Journal, which explored “why Americans have lost faith in the value of college” — a story that starts at the beginnings of “college for all” in 1965, and uses a broad brush to paint American higher education as a bloated system suffering from its own blunders. It hits on a theme frequently seen in both mainstream and social media lately: College isn’t worth it.
The reporter Douglas Belkin quickly recaps 60 years of higher-education history, drawing a thread through the demise of vocational education, the digital revolution, the missteps of intransigent faculty and profligate administrators, the disappointments of employers, and the disengagement of students cheating their way through school.
Now, the ideal of “college for all” has become “broken for most,” Belkin writes, as employers ditch degree requirements, and Generation Z students and their parents are looking for alternatives to college.
“Whatever comes next,” Arthur Levine, president emeritus of Columbia University’s Teachers College, tells Belkin of Generation Z, “it’s not going to come soon enough for them.”
For many of them, “what’s next” will continue to be college.