When the Tassel Isn’t Worth the Hassle

Rachel Lu:

Graduation season has become somewhat poignant for me. I can’t help but smile when I step through the sliding doors of a box store and find myself looking at a display of cards, balloons, and festive pastries. Hats off to the grads! The tassle is worth the hassle! They’re such happy sentiments. I haven’t donned academic robes for quite a number of years, but it’s still fun to think about the fresh faces, burgeoning potential, and mounds of buttercream icing.

Even in the face of such cheerfulness, though, it’s hard to forget that higher education is in bad shape. It’s time to start thinking creatively about this problem, because it’s obvious that our present system is becoming unsustainable. College has become ludicrously expensive while offering graduates diminishing returns on their investments.

As institutions compete for a shrinking pool of potential students, resources are being squandered on fancy buildings and overpaid administration, while starving adjuncts teach most of the courses. College campuses are continually in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. Sooner or later, something has to give.

The coming shake-up could have any number of negative consequences, but there may also be windows of opportunity for positive reform. Many existing colleges will go bankrupt, and families may start thinking further outside the box as they consider their educational options. Trade schools will probably see increased interest as traditional four-year colleges decline.