So here’s a short post by the fine blogger Alan Jacobs. With Alan, Sam Goldman, and Rod Dreher, I have to admit that THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE is starting to surge in a big way.
So Alan’s point is that colleges are engaged in a destructive amenities arms race. Their health clubs and such are getting ever more impressive. But they never end up really making this or that institution distinctive, just because the next magnificent edifice (this goes for student centers, science buildings, and forth too) built someone else will be bigger and better. It is, of course, a real disadvantage for your average private college to have fallen too far behind in this race.
Ordinary colleges are going into debt to remain competitive. And the costs they’re cutting are those connected with having most courses staffed by tenured or tenure-track faculty. Merely offering a good education in the traditional fields, it’s thought, isn’t enough to have your college stand out in a way that will gain the increasingly scarce resource called the college-bound student.
Meanwhile, enrollments are dropping for most four-year private residential colleges. And there’s less real “liberal education” than ever (as a percentage of the whole called “higher education,” at least). There’s also the allegation that there’s less real educational “value added” than ever, except in the STEM majors and the traditional liberal arts. So the libertarians are right about the bubble bursting soon, if it really is true that students can’t be suckered into borrowing to live in a luxury hotel forever.
I have to add, to make sure this isn’t viewed as criticism of my home team, that Berry College will be overflowing with good students in the fall. And Berry has no significant debt at all. (It has acquired the questionable and certainly expensive amenity of D-3 football, but it’s clear we can AFFORD it.)