For Whom The Quad Bell Tower Tolls

Somewhere in one of the dusty conference rooms at Castle Gormogon, the Mandarin and the Czar met to discuss higher education. Of the great many things discussed, we concluded that higher education as we know it could be on considerably borrowed time.

The Czar remembers his days at college, discussing with Father Фёдор Изгрунмицков Ялголпин about such popular majors as Alchemy, Feudal Management, Hagiological Sciences, and Witchcraft and Gender Studies.

Thousands, if not millions, of colleges and universities are dumping students out onto the streets with no discernible or desirable job skills. The Czar will be the first to concede that higher education is not an employment training institute, but basically economic reality kicks in for these graduates.

An example: a student majors in Women’s Studies, currently found at a hundred schools. She (or he) graduates magna cum laude and discovers… no one is hiring women’s studies majors right now. Week after week, month after month, no offers. Eventually she (or, one supposes, he) winds up working part-time in retail until a full-time position opens up. Five years later, she (or even he) winds up managing a mall store.

Eventually, like all Ponzi schemes, the ones lowest on the totem get the pole. You can peruse the web pages of any number of universities and colleges and read ludicrous majors.

But criticizing the utility of liberal arts degrees is old hat; the flip side of the coin is not much better: schools are churning out science majors and business majors as well to no advantage. A BS in Chemistry with a great GPA is discovering no one is returning his or her calls either: the one entry-level position has been filled by an MS in Chemistry with four published papers and a managed a four-year research project. That sort of thing is happening.

Or worse, the position was filled by a BS in Bioengineering. Yes, there are a whole bunch of new degrees out there—from a Human Services/Gerontology degree (from Phoenix) to a Bachelor of Science degree in Project Management (TCU). These are weird courses if you’re over 35, but welcome to the future.

Something else of interest: a huge portion of these “new” degrees are placing graduates in jobs. And the lion’s share of these “new” degrees are at so-called online or distance learning universities. Right: remember the weird technical college that offered veterinary tech training and that advertised on the higher UHF channels? Those guys are killing it right now in job placement.

So much so that traditional brick-and-mortarboard institutions are paying attention. Professor Mondo writes that his big box is establishing a major in social media. Our own venerable alma mater dei gloria is offering a major in something called informatics. Keeping up with the times is a good thing, as even Mondo appreciates.

Even established majors like Psychology are completely pivoting: instead of your psych major consisting of boring analysis like organizational psychology, your psych major will now be studying consumer behavior. And perhaps get hired by web design firms and marketing agencies.

But is it too little, too late? Probably—the market for a lot of this stuff has been cornered pretty well by the online markets with established metrics on how many students wind up getting a job and paying off their loans. And here’s the kicker—they tend to be a heck of a lot cheaper than the traditional schools and vastly more accommodating to students’ crazy schedules.

An online school that costs a fraction of a stuffy old college, and gets you hired for a job you find interesting? Or that stuffy old college dad wants you to go to because he likes their football team?

Pretty soon the bigger schools will have a hard time justifying their monster tuition. And that’s when the bubble is going to burst.

In order to compete—and as much as we admire these new online colleges, the traditional schools have a lot of experience at competition—expect big changes, particularly in cost.

And how exactly will colleges and universities lower their costs? By cutting overhead: dumping departments that don’t produce results. Yes, there will always be a History department and a Philosophy department; but look for those to go the way Psychology is going: a totally new focus on socially useful skills. Majors ripe for re-branding include Psychology and History, of course, but also Library Science, English, Political Science, and Ecology.

But prepare to see many become mere minors, such as Classical Studies, Social Work, Theology, Anthropology, Sociology, and Mathematics. Yes, some of these are sciences; but in terms of job producing? They either don’t get people hired (Sociology, Mathematics) or prepare you for jobs with long waiting lists (Social Work, Anthropology).

Further, most of the money can be saved by dumping some really questionable majors. None of these should surprise you because they guarantee under-employment or no possibility of real wages: women’s and gender studies, African-American studies, Latin-American studies, dance, music, language studies, theater, and more.

But many sciences will not go away completely; many of them will remain in some form, somewhere…but not everywhere. Select schools will continue to teach astronomy, agricultural sciences, marine science, energy science, material science, meteorology, and so on, but the majority of colleges and universities will either drop them or link up to partner with other schools to offer pieces of them.

Sound crazy? Ask graduates of veterinary sciences, pharmacy, nursing, and dental, who already have only a small selection of very discriminating schools from which to choose. This model will likely extend to the rest of the STEM majors as well.

And this by no means that liberal arts degrees are gone or gutted: look for liberal arts to focus on more technical aspects: apparel and textile design, graphic design, film and broadcast technology, interior design, landscape design, urban planning, web design, social media, industrial design, and so on. Most liberal arts colleges are seeing enrollment in these areas increase while crowding out the others listed above.

With the elimination of so much overhead, colleges and universities will begin to see tuition drop while revenues increase. Likewise, they will begin to invest heavily on long-distance learning and e-learning tools to compete with the online schools. And they will have to, because there is increasingly little choice: while die-hard university types will chuckle over the notion that a small online college will threaten their ivy walls, the kids in high schools today don’t know that. All their input is coming from social media, and guess who is advertising like a rash on social media? Hint: it ain’t State University.

In a followup essay, we might suggest why this will be fantastic for Americans since it means the Left will lose control over the academic culture (because there won’t be one as such), and that higher education will be forced to embrace basic free market economics. But for now, the forthcoming collapse of academia as we know it is inevitable; indeed, the very word forthcoming might be incorrect. In many respects, the bubble is already tearing in several places.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.