Declining Enrollment Can Be Good for the Future of Higher Ed


The college boom that commenced after World War II was never going to last.   Economics doesn’t work that way.   As with any other facet of commerce–the nasty thing they try at progressive institutions to discourage you from supporting–the task of building, building, building to satisfy sudden demand gets overdone.  And then…?

Says Minnesota economics professor Nathan D. Grawe, “Unless something unexpected intervenes, the confluence of current demographic changes foretells an unprecedented reduction in postsecondary demand about a decade ahead.”

Translated from the Academese, what this means is, enrollments are going to fall.  There won’t be the demand for college there used to be and still is.   Populations aren’t going to grow fast enough to fill the available classroom space, especially on campuses a long way from students’ homes.  New York, Philadelphia, and Boston will be hit especially hard, says Prof. Grawe, with “dramatic losses of 15 percent or more” among the college-going.   Admissions officers will issue more and more frantic calls:  Please come study with us.  Please!

The competition that already exists for two classes of student–the ultra-accomplished and the “diverse”–will accelerate.  Sounds like a formula for further de-equalizing a country that progressives already are calling unfairly, unreasonably divided between rich and poor.

That’s doubtless to overstate matters, inasmuch as dire forecasts seldom pan out exactly as foretold.   (Rosy forecasts encounter the same fate.)   The expected drop-off in enrollment expectations is nonetheless interesting and potentially helpful to the cause of righting higher ed before it capsizes.

When what you’re doing works, you tend to go with the flow: in higher ed’s case, rising tuitions, bulkier administrations, and political correctness of a large and deadly order.  As the pool of students shrinks, no small number of schools may find it essential to alter their way of doing business.   Or not: Maybe they’ll just build luxury dorms and football stadia to rival Disneyland.  Unless the marketplace won’t support such sterile and useless endeavors.

The half-dead idea of education centered on the best that has been thought and said; further, of teachers’ preparing students for citizenship as well as Silicon Valley or the Beltway – such an idea has attractions not easily ignored.   A school where the college president out-earns the football coach?  Gee.  Where the freedom to learn and speak is regarded by the faculty as a great ideal, worthy of defending and spreading?  Double gee.

So we’ll see.  Nevertheless, the idea of higher ed reinventing itself in response to changed realities truly excites – and even inspires.  Living long enough to see it happen is no bad idea either.

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