Many parents and the children they send to college are paying rapidly rising prices for something of declining quality. This is because “quality” is not synonymous with “value.”
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor, believes college has become, for many, merely a “status marker” signaling membership in the educated caste, and a place to meet spouses of similar status — “associative mating.” Since 1961, the time students spend reading, writing and otherwise studying has fallen from 24 hours a week to about 15 — enough for a degree often desired only as an expensive signifier of rudimentary qualities (e.g., the ability to follow instructions). Employers value this signifier as an alternative to aptitude tests when evaluating potential employees because such tests can provoke lawsuits by having a “disparate impact” on this or that racial or ethnic group.
In his Encounter Books Broadside “The Higher Education Bubble,” Reynolds says this bubble exists for the same reasons the housing bubble did. The government decided that too few people owned homes/went to college, so government money was poured into subsidized and sometimes subprime mortgages/-student loans, with the predictable result that housing prices/-college tuitions soared and many borrowers went bust. Tuitions and fees have risen more than 440 percent in 30 years as schools happily raised prices — and lowered standards — to siphon up federal money. A recent Wall Street Journal headline: “Student Debt Rises by 8% as College Tuitions Climb.”