Have you heard? Higher education in the United States is in serious decline; our colleges and universities are headed down the tubes. The problems, we're told, are manifold. Universities are self-serving bastions of managerial privilege, where multiple layers of deans feather their nests. Colleges are wasting money on nonsense, failing to educate students for the 21st century's demands. Kids themselves are co-conspirators, taking easy or trivial courses, avoiding study, and partying all the time. Graduates incur intolerable debt to secure a future filled with underemployment.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? And those are just a few of the prominent strands of argument on the topic.
You don't need to navigate away from TheAtlantic.com to come across fresh examples of the hand-wringing. Recently, Scott Gerber instructed readers here on "How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America." This sort of thing is everywhere. Megan McArdle, recently of The Atlantic, now at Newsweek and the Daily Beast, wrote the September 9th Newsweek cover article, "Is College a Lousy Investment?" Her short answer: yes, it is.
There's much more, of course, and if you want to bone up on this literature, you might start with a couple of review essays that appeared within the last eighteen months in the New York Review of Books -- the first by Peter Brooks, the second by Anthony Grafton.