Higher Education: The Next Bubble To Burst?

By P.D. Lesko

The new E-Zine content went up and there are a couple of pieces that deal directly with the question of whether higher education will be the next “bubble” to burst. In “A College Education of Diminishing Returns,” the writer, Eric Fry, examines the myth of the value of an undergraduate degree. When weighing whether a student would be wise to incur a boatload of debt in exchange for a college degree, the argument has always been that a college degree increases earning potential over the course of an individual’s lifetime. Thus, the time, effort and money plowed into earning an undergraduate degree paid off, literally. Today, the skyrocketing costs of tuition has changed that equation. Fry writes, “College degrees bring higher income, but at today’s cost they can’t make up the savings they consume and the debt they add early in the life of a typical student.” It’s a thought-provoking piece.

In the “Analysis” piece, the writer looks at student loan default rates. For profit colleges have come under intense scrutiny as of late, as well they should. The Department of Education recently released data that show at for profit colleges across the country, the projected student loan default rate is almost 50 percent. The writer points out another sobering fact: “Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards — a debt fast approaching $1 trillion with no end in sight.” As so-called career colleges grow, there must be accountability concerning the loan default rates of their graduates. Why? Every dollar that goes unpaid in student loans, is a dollar a lending institution/federal government doesn’t have to help other students finance their educations at the institutions of their choice. These defaults are costing taxpayers dearly. Then, again, whether students should incur significant education-related debt is being questioned by experts.

Writer Jon Marcus identifies a shocking “new” trend on college campuses, as well. Administrators are (GASP!) turning off the lights and dialing down the heat during holiday breaks in order to save money. Finally. In Ann Arbor, where I live, a night-time foray onto the campus of the University of Michigan during the holiday break, and from the number of lights on in empty classrooms and offices, you would think the institution has money to burn. Thankfully, administrators at other institutions have stumbled upon one of the easiest ways to save a buck: shut off the lights. Marcus writes, “Higher education in the U.S. is going into hibernation. With budgets tight, energy prices high and demand for conservation growing, universities and colleges are shutting down for winter more tightly than ever before. Thermostats are being lowered, lights turned off and services suspended, leaving many campuses dark, cold and empty but for lonely security guards.” Let’s hope Stanford U.’s “Turn Off for the Break” campaign spreads like wildfire!

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Our web programmer was teasing me the other day. He’s not on Facebook, and doesn’t like Twitter. He’s nowhere near as excited as I am to watch the number of people who’ve found AdjunctNation.com on Facebook grow. We’re sitting at just under 200 Facebook “likes.” Not bad for one month. If you’re on Facebook, stop by the AdjunctNation.com page. On Twitter, we’re at 110 followers at the moment. This is a great start. If you are one of the many faculty who use Twitter, follow AdjunctNation and you’ll know when new content goes up on our web site.

When there’s a new blog, for instance, the link gets posted to our Facebook page. There are several new blog entries to read. For starters, “Adjunct By Choice” writer Ron Tinsley posted a thoughtful entry about his struggle with whether he should get a Ph.D. In Just A Side of Fries, Please, Ron writes:

 I thought of a Ph.D. as some kind of validation that would allow me to teach what I like. This is somewhat true, but I realized that there would be a price to pay, as well. I like to compare it to ordering Cheeseburger Value Meal from McDonald’s even though all you really want are the fries. Research (cheeseburger) is tasty, but I could eat fries (teach) all day long. The pressure on some professors chasing tenure is something I am not sure I want.

George Bernard Shaw coined the popular phrase, “Those that can’t do, teach.” I’m not sure Shaw knew a thing about the rigors of teaching diverse student populations with differing learning styles when he wrote that. In any given class, I may need to be a counselor, social worker, professor and mentor simultaneously. I’ve realized that I can do this without a Ph.D.

In her latest “Juggling 101” blog entry, writer Kat Kiefer-Newman discusses her ongoing struggle with teaching at a college in a rural community. The struggle has more to do with olfactory challenges than, say, the academic preparedness of her students. She writes,

Like weird jewelry, the flies nestle in hair and stick to backpacks, hitching free-rides.

The funny thing about the cow smell is that if you expose yourself to it for more than a few minutes, it tends to linger on the skin and permeate the hair. I try never to have an appointment after my classes at this campus, out of respect for the nasal sensitivities of those whom I would meet.

For the past three years, my students have been assuring me that I’ll eventually get used to the smell (and the flies). Yeah. Sure. Moo.

Blogger Rich Russell, who contributes to our “Teaching in Pajamas” blog, shares a list of several of his “favorite” things. His “things” are links to web sites (Rich writes, “Although most are rather Language Arts-centric, I hope there might be something for everyone.”) where he has frittered away time over the course of the past year. It’s an interesting list. To check it out, click here. If you are a very experienced distance educator who’d like to write about teaching online for AdjunctNation.com, please contact me. We are looking for online faculty to contribute to the “Teaching in Pajamas” blog, along with Rich. Send me a 700-word sample blog entry, and let me know about your experience teaching online and, of course, writing/blogging. Be sure to read the blog before you send me your materials. If your sample blog entry knocks my socks off, I’ll be in touch. We’re also still looking for a blogger to take over the “Reading and Writing” blog. If you would be interested in contributing to that blog, contact me, as well. Here’s a link to a job description for writers interested in blogging for AdjunctNation.com.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a safe and restful holiday break. Thank you very much for visiting AdjunctNation.com. As always, if you have questions or concerns about the site, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone.

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1 Comment
  1. Claudia Dreifus says

    Hello P.D.: The Economist has a very fine piece last week on the PhD glut. Suggest that people link to it on-line. The overproduction of PhDs by universities is central to the problems that contingents at all levels suffer, I believe–and its directly linked to wage suppression among adjuncts. Claudia Dreifus

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