Colleges feeling the pinch as enrollments plummet; pandemic cited but there’s more to it

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Graduating college with crushing student loan debt and few or no marketable skills perhaps have given American families second thoughts about higher education’s return on investment.

According to  The Washington Post, “Hundreds of thousands have left the college pipeline amid pandemic turmoil and the lure of jobs. This scenario, in turn, has prompted a “daunting” cash-flow challenge for these institutions, which might be the key subtext of the article published by the Jeff Bezos-owned publication.

Apart from STEM degrees, some would-be applicants are apparently opting for in-demand, high-paying jobs in the skilled trades rather than undergoing four-years of on-campus Marxist indoctrination.

Many schools switched to remote learning (without a reduction in tuition) during the COVID pandemic. Mask and vaccine mandates are also on the agenda for students returning to campus to resume their studies in person.

In its article headlined “Colleges scramble to recruit students as nationwide enrollment plunges,” which you can read in its entirety for the full context, the Post is also lamenting that the gap year, when high-school graduates take time off before continuing their education, has become perpetual.

“Colleges across America face a daunting challenge: Their student head count has shrunk more than 5 percent since 2019, according to a national estimate, as debate over the value of higher education intensified during the public health crisis and economic tumult,” the news outlet reported.

“That’s an enrollment loss of nearly 1 million students. Some drifted out of college, while others never started. Many colleges are on an urgent quest to keep current students and recover their lost freshmen. At stake are not only the education and career prospects of huge numbers of young adults, but also the financial health of regional colleges and universities. Once students leave, they often don’t return. Gap years can become permanent.”

Federally guaranteed student loans have not, for the most part, provided colleges and universities with an incentive to significantly cut the overhead, such as reducing the non-teaching bureaucracy, which includes equity gatekeepers.

State-supported, i.e., taxpayer-subsidized, colleges and universities, are far less expensive than private counterparts. Of course, some students are fortunate enough to receive full or partial scholarships.

According to the Post, “The promise of social mobility, at an affordable price, draws students from low-income families to public colleges and universities. They see the bachelor’s degree as a ticket to a better life.”

Separately, that highly credentialed, often Ivy League-educated, media and political class have not been exemplars of competence especially in recent years may also be a factor in the disillusionment of pursuing a formal degree.

Bachelor degrees “are neither a prerequisite for, nor a guarantee of, career success. But research shows they are powerfully correlated with good jobs,” the Post noted.

It also conceded, however, that “Now, many potential college students are feeling the pull of the job market. The nation’s unemployment rate edged below 4 percent in February, and employers are offering higher wages and benefits for entry-level jobs that don’t require a college degree.”

Parenthetically, some universities, even at the graduate-degree level, have abandoned standardized testing and/or lowered standards to fill classroom seats.

Although obviously a lot of retirements have occurred since then, observers have quipped in the past that universities served as a hiring hall for otherwise unemployable 1960s-era hippies or various radicals.

As has been chronicled, to date it is very difficult for otherwise qualified non-leftists interested in pursuing teaching as a career to get hired or obtain tenure at the university level. Established professors also encounter issues.

Citing a Georgetown University study, the Post explained that “the median lifetime earnings of those whose highest credential is a bachelor’s degree was $2.8 million, with the top quartile making at least $4.1 million. For those with only a high school diploma, the median was $1.6 million, with the top quartile at $2.2 million or more.”

The director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and Workforce, the research entity that conducted the study, told the Post that “the bachelor’s degree ‘is still the gold standard, especially over the long term.'”

“That vision can be a tough sell,” the Post admitted, however, about the current value proposition.

Various influencers and others are opining on the Post story. Here is a sample:


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