Recent Articles Show Stunning Lack of Self-Awareness among Higher Education Establishment

Set forth below are three articles that appeared in the last few weeks in the higher education trade press:

A ‘Stunning’ Level of Student Disconnection

How a President Decided It Was Time to Close His College

The Enrollment Crisis for Men Continues to Worsen

The first two appeared in the bible of the higher education establishment, The Chronicle of Higher Education, while the last appeared in Insight Into Diversity. As you can see, the first article reports a “stunning” level of student disconnection. The second reports on the latest college to close its doors, and the third reports on the ongoing decline in male college enrollment.

What I find “stunning” is the lack of self-awareness among leaders in higher education. It’s stunning to me (and others) that this group is surprised that demonizing and creating a hostile learning environment for male students has…resulted in male students avoiding college altogether. It’s also stunning that these leaders are surprised to see higher education experience an enrollment crisis after they’ve alienated half their addressable market.

Finally, it’s stunning that this group is surprised that forcing students to take classes remotely, socially isolating them, and scaring them needlessly about Covid is causing “disconnection” and skyrocketing mental health issues. There’s growing evidence that the schools with the fewest public health measures are reporting the best student outcomes across a wide range of measures, including academic, social, physical health, and mental health.

All of these outcomes were predicted long ago by more thoughtful and objective observers of higher education. Nonetheless, higher education leaders went ahead with them anyway. No one forced them to make these decisions. They did it all on their own, usually with great confidence and enthusiasm.

The coming years will likely see a record number of college failures. While this is partly the result of adverse demographic trends, it’s mostly the result of unforced errors by higher education—the decline in the number of male students, growing questions about the value of the current academic offerings, etc. Observers have warned for years of the dangers of these strategies, but to no avail. Now the cows are coming home.

There are other unforced errors as well, such as the skyrocketing number of administrators who generate no revenue and create no value. Administrative bloat is the leading cause of the escalating cost of higher education. When the higher education establishment comes pleading for yet more subsidies from state and federal governments, lawmakers should ask hard questions about how their financial troubles came to pass. Taxpayers shouldn’t be bailing out higher education for its own mismanagement.

If I could find a way to short the higher education sector, I’d do it in an instant.


Image: Nathan Dumlao, Public Domain

Silence Dogood

Silence Dogood is the pseudonym of a lawyer and former college trustee.

6 thoughts on “Recent Articles Show Stunning Lack of Self-Awareness among Higher Education Establishment

  1. Small, liberal arts schools like Lincoln College (the one closed by its president) have a strong incentive to avoid administrative bloat. They are more likely to be close to their students and to avoid ideological excess. They are also more likely to fail.

  2. I guess I’m one of those professors who helped “force” students to take courses remotely. The first term of the pandemic, the university had me “pivot” to an online format with about a week’s notice. Hardest course I ever taught, since I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. A big intro course. Fortunately, my TA saved me, helping me figure out the varied online options. Without that, I probably would have walked off the job. (Being near retirement, not needing the money, and very definitely at high risk from covid — faculty health not being something that the good pseudonymous lawyer/trustee mentions).

    Then, a year ago, having been called back to teach from retirement, and thinking I was doing my part to help the society get through this awful mess, and experiencing some gratitude from colleagues, and yes, students, I did a “remote” but real-time large class. It was gratifying to be able to help students, many of whom were having very serious covid-related problems, in their families if not themselves. (Yes, some students actually were concerned about spreading the virus to their parents, siblings, and grandparents.)

    This year, we went back to “in-person” classes. But, the university also made us offer a “remote” option for the students who needed to quarantine or were just afraid of covid — a rather significant portion of the class. Again, I came through, with exemplary help from a couple of great TA’s.

    Yes, I did notice that this year’s students — mostly recent high school grads — were “different” from any class I had had before. Oddly disconnected, yet extremely attentive at the same time. Those who came to class did pretty well compared to previous years — I have plenty of data to assert this confidently.

    Well, I’m told that my department is “counting on me” to come through next year as we face a mass of retirements. But this article makes me wonder. Perhaps the author will explain his own contribution as a lawyer and former trustee. Did he perhaps make use of the “remote option” himself?

    1. Your university does pay you, doesn’t it? You mention not needing the money — what was the source of your wealth?

      One of the things I find most infuriating is the self-entitlement attitude of far too many faculty members. You aren’t that good</b, no one is- and there aqe a hundred other people who could have taught that course.

      Prior generations of faculty really weren't paid that much and worked a lot harder. Now we have prima donnas — and they are part of the problem.

      1. Yeah, doc, you obviously know all about it. Please tell us about your experience teaching large classes during the pandemic. I’m sure you got hundreds of students through a very difficult time.

      2. Yes, Jonathan, hundreds of students paying how many of thousands of dollars each. Throw in the direct & indirect subsidies and it’s a nice chunk of change.

        And I somehow doubt that you took a vow of poverty…

        I’m reminded of the arrogant sense of entitlement that the millworkers at Great Northern Paper had 40 years ago. An entire industry that imploded and is no more.

        GNP mostly produced newsprint and the decline of newspapers didn’t help, nor did corporate management. But the employees had the same “I deserve it” attittde I see today in a lot of higher ed faculty.

        Reality is that large lecture classes are a legacy of the 1970s, and Zoom Skool demonstrated that many of the 21st Century alternatives are actually superior.

  3. Yes, yes, yes!

    The three things I would add are:

    1: The demographic issue is worse than people realize because every college in the country expanded when the Millenials arrived. So it’s not just having the capacity circa 1980 when their parents (the Baby Boomers) aged out of college but all this additional capacity. Expensive buildings built with borrowed money.

    2. What saved them in the ’80s & 90s was that a lot of women either hadn’t gone to college or had dropped out to get married. Their children now grown, they went to college.

    Women in their 40s & 50s today already have their degrees & professional credentials — where their mothers were entering the workforce in the 1980s, they never really left it.

    3: Most of the women’s colleges went coed because the female students wanted to be where the boys are. As colleges drive out the male students, they’ll attract fewer female students.

    2026 – when the babies not born in 2008 won’t turn 18 – will be a very interesting year…

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