Wednesday, June 06, 2018

pieces from The Atlantic in the last year on the bubble of higher ed thesis

and in keeping with the previous post about how hundreds upon hundreds of movies are being made but box office is stable; and how the successes are bigger and the failures more noticeable, here's some stuff from The Atlantic in keeping with the previously proposed idea that higher education and mainstream film may both be bubbles waiting to burst. 
 
 
 
 
Maybe higher education has reached its peak. Not the Harvards and Yales of the world, but the institutions that make up the rest of the industry—the regional public schools who saw decades of growth and are now facing major budget cuts and the smaller, less-selective private colleges that have exorbitant sticker prices while the number of students enrolling in them declines.
 
Higher ed is often described as a bubble—and much like the housing market in 2008, the thought goes, it will ultimately burst. But what if it’s less of a sudden pop and more of a long, slow slide, and we are already on the way down?
 
Bryan Alexander started grappling with the idea of “peak higher education” in 2013—inspired by the notion of “peak car,” “peak oil,” and other so-called “peaks.” At the time, there were signs that the industry was already struggling. The number of students enrolled in higher education had dropped by a little over 450,000 after years of booming growth, the proportion of part-time faculty—more commonly referred to as adjuncts—had steadily become a more significant part of the professorship, and there was a general skepticism about the skyrocketing costs of college and concerns over whether a degree was worth it. Taken individually, he said, each sign was troubling enough. But when looked at together, they represented the outlines of a bleak future for higher education. Alexander, a self-described higher-education futurist and a former English professor, came to the conclusion that after nearly a half century of growth, higher education might be as big as it could get. It would, he reasoned, only get smaller from there.
 
Now, five years on, he says the “depressing” hypothesis is playing out. In the spring of 2013, there were 19,105,651 students enrolled in higher ed; this spring, there were 17,839,330, according to recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That represents a roughly 7-percent decrease—and is driven largely by declining enrollments in the for-profit and community-college sectors, as well as stagnant enrollments among four-year non-profit public and private institutions. And the trend of declining enrollment in higher education is likely to continue, he argues, for a couple of reasons, but most notably, a declining birth rate means that there will be fewer 18-year-olds entering academe, and there are fewer international and immigrant students to fill those seats.
 
Why is the dip in enrollment such a big deal? Well, quite plainly, the business model for a lot of colleges is dependent on enrollment. If enrollments decline, revenues decline, and colleges have less money for facilities, faculty, and programs. That creates a sort of death spiral in which colleges are getting rid of programs, which in turn makes it harder to attract students, and so on. For non-selective private liberal-arts colleges, this could mean mergers or closures—something that’s already happening in quite a few places, such as at Marylhurst University in Oregon, Wheelock College in Massachusetts, and St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma. And for other institutions, Alexander told me in a recent interview, it could mean a shifting of institutional priorities—particularly in the students they recruit and teach, moving away from a primary focus on 18-to-22-year-olds towards more adult learners, as administrators at the University of Memphis have done in Tennessee.
 
 
If this forecast has some accuracy to it then the Scot Timberg's of the western world with their Culture Crash laments just didn't understand that their jobs were already on the chopping block.  I am reminded as I dig through the histories of classical guitarist composers like Sor or Matiegka that while these men are just barely known for being musicians outside the guitar scene they both had day jobs, regular day jobs.  Their music was not how they necessarily paid their bills and made ends meet.  Diabelli was an engraver and publisher, for instance, and since history has dubbed him a mediocrity and something of a back-stabbing hack on pay issues I could try to make a case that his F major Op. 29 guitar sonata is really pretty good and it would be for nothing because post-Beethoven Diabelli's fate has been sealed and ... not without cause, really.  Still, Diabelli had some good moments.  But I digress ... .
 
What I wonder, though, is whether neoliberalism would be the only thing to explain this potential bubble, if there is a bubble.  It could explain some of it but I wonder if the conservative/reactionary bromides about attacks on the canon have a role to play.  When there are doubts about the fitness and justice of the canon and the hows and whys of it, then if we combine that with a market driven impulse to get more enrolled and have them get degrees they arguably don't need then there's plenty of room for there to be liberal and conservative reasons to keep the bubble alive as a symbol of the perceived legitimacy of the whole enterprise. 
 
Of course I'm not against actual education or literacy or reading  I'm voluntarily in the home stretch of Adorno's Aesthetic Theory for crying out loud.  I even like pretty good-sized chunks of it even as Adorno's prose is strewn with eye-rolling snobbery and nonsense.  But I am glad I didn't go to grad school.  I was considering grad school in the earlier decade and it just didn't work out, and I'm grateful rather than sorry about it at this point in my life. 
 
In a lot of ways the crises seem to be that you can't MONETIZE these things the way you used to.  It's not that the fine arts are exactly going away and it's not that films aren't being made any longer, it's that the "winner take all" aspect of the economy has become a source of outrage for people who can no longer make the money they used to.
 
But since I've always been an amateur I do wonder whether or not the entire idea of vocational artist activity is part and parcel of the larger bubble dynamic. 

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