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Because higher education is so very strongly tied to government funding, much more so than housing, I think the end of the higher education bubble (the existence of which I do recognize) will look very different from the end of the housing bubble. We're not talking about a salable asset, here: I can't sell you my degree, after all.

So we can generally agree that the higher ed bubble will burst, but I don't see exactly how, or what repercussions that will have.

Well, the housing bubble was leverage based and the higher education one is less so, especially since higher education loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy (pretty much only in death, right?).

And as you note an education is not terribly fungible.

I agree with your last point: when, how and the shape of the fallout is quite unclear. We can perhaps see some clues at the edges, as some of the more marginal institutions go out of business, e.g. Antioch College (surprise; you might liken it and its sector to the sub-prime and Alt-A mortgage sectors).

But it's still the case that a 4 year Bachelor's degree has replaced the high school diploma as a proxy for [whatever] and until that changes we're more likely to see various sorts of shifting instead of across the board collapse.

Camille Paglia (who's always worth listening to, says this "ultra right wing conservative" :-) suggests we make a major shift to the trades: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1649709, e.g.: "The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted."

> I can't sell you my degree, after all.

There is an interesting option. The degree should come with some option to force the university to buy it back at a discount. Say a person couldn't find that promised job after they got their degree, so they can force the university to buy back his diploma for 80% of the price he go it for.

All that student's course credits would be expunged. If they claim they have a degree from that university from then on, they would be charged with fraud.

I wonder how many people would sell back the diploma in return for the money back.

I'm not sure how that would work for a lot of development jobs. I know my first job looked at my degree but after that most places don't care. They want to see experience and will test you on your dev skills during the interview process.

So what I'm getting at is that after 3 jobs I could sell my degree back and say "don't need this anymore, thanks!". Now you'll probably say that you can't ask for a refund after your first job. But that sounds like a lot of verification work. And can you prove that the degree GOT me the job?

If most places only care about experience, then some sort of apprenticeship or internship programs should spring up by themselves. These are now done through partnerships between universities and companies, but is there really any value added by the university here?

Or, another possibility is that the degree only serves as a "necessary but not sufficient" marker. It increases the probability that you know your stuff, but only the first couple of jobs confirm that you learned anything. In which case yeah, selling your degree back to them would be bad.

Oh, these kinds of programs are starting to show up. But they still hand you a degree which is accredited in some way. For example, Neumont University is kind of like this. Its basically a University giving you a 4 year BS degree in 2 years. With a complete focus on coding, database design, architecture and processes. Its an interesting middle ground. But education acceleration comes at a price.

Unfortunately it is hard to just come out with an 'apprenticeship or internship' only type program today. You do still have people that want to see that nice piece of paper at first.

>Say a person couldn't find that promised job after they got their degree,

I attended a state school. I just checked the website and found no promises of a job. In fact the only pages that include the word "career" are the career services which is a free service to help students and recent graduates find work. I checked a few other area schools and they make no such promises either. Hardly a comprehensive poll but,

Where did you get the idea that colleges ever promised jobs after earning a degree?

> Where did you get the idea that colleges ever promised jobs after earning a degree?

Every single guidance councilor and parent across the country.

Why should universities be held liable for the ignorance (or perhaps naivety?) of guidance counselors and parents. College degree != guaranteed job, nor should it.

Oh, I agree, anyone with any intelligence shouldn't listen to them.

I'm not sure how old you are, but it's borderline brainwashing. My mother literally used to tell me "Work hard in school, so you can go to college, and get a good job." It's not hard to see why people think that way.

Their advertisement. It's an implicit promise.

Yes, some people go because they want to expand their horizons, learn more about the world, network, make friends. However most people go to be able to eventually get a job.

Exactly, which is very interesting. The number of schools that call themselves "Liberal Arts" schools is fascinating, especially considering that their focus is very opposite in that it is very much vocation/job preparation related, rather than liberal. The goals of liberal arts education is to create "free" people - educating people to become more introspective and understand the complexities of the world we live in, understand their role and responsibilities in society, and have clear understanding of ethics and morality in everything.

I attended a supposed liberal arts school and was NEVER informed of such goals or anything in the proximity. In addition, never did I feel that my schooling was geared towards or assisted in much of that.

> Their advertisement. It's an implicit promise.

Interesting you say that. Around here, the for-profit colleges and cook schools and whatnot all have fine print in their TV ads that say "XYZ School does not guarantee a job or job placement."

Maybe I'm insane, but I really wish that people didn't look at school solely as a mechanism for finding a job.

I want to go to school because I want to learn about things (and because I want access to their lab equipment and funding), not because I'm searching for a job.

I had a great philosophy professor in university who popped the whole higher education bubble for us in his very first class.

He explained in clear terms that we were basically in university as a government subsidy to industry. Not so long ago, businesses took fresh graduates and trained them. The concept of going to school for accounting or to learn film editing is a surprisingly young notion.

If universities have a core competency, it's in stimulating minds to grow and develop, far beyond mere technical instruction. But they spend almost all of their time on the latter, because that's what the market (and their government masters) demand.

A lot of people don't have the luxury of spending tens of thousands (or in some cases hundreds of thousands) of dollars and, more importantly, several years of earning potential to just "learn things."

That's not to say that all or most people don't want to "learn things". But they're smart enough to realize that they can't afford to do that. What they may want to do, though, is support themselves and possibly live something approaching a middle-class lifestyle.

Many students are smart enough to realize, as well, that if you can get a good job and financial security, you can afford to have free time to do things that interest you. If you're scraping by in a dead-end job, it's a lot tougher to have hobbies or do any other sort of self-improvement.

And so they go to college, because they've been told over and over again that college is 'the best investment you can make.'

In some cases, that advice is coming in good faith from older people who grew up when a 4-year college degree basically was a Golden Ticket into the comfortable middle class. In other cases, it's coming from 'admissions counselors' (aka 'recruiters') whose job it is to get signups in order to bring in Federal loan money. What you don't hear from either group is that a college degree appears to be a declining asset; as more people have them, the benefit of having one (in terms of standing out in the hiring pool) goes down, at the same time the cost on average has outpaced inflation.

It's a shitty situation all around, and I'm honestly not sure what the best advice is to give a young person today. But one thing I am sure of, and it's that the old canard about "study what you love, the job will follow" is a lie. If nobody will pay you to do what you love, don't pay a lot of money for a piece of paper that says you're an expert in it.

I guess it depends on the kind of school or degree. Higher education always meant to be tied with getting a job...

For this reason I have a hard time seeing a bubble for higher education (Masters and PhDs) but I can imagine it for these expensive professional/technical schools. Then again, I am not in the US so my perspective is likely very different.

There is absolutely a bubble.

You can't even get (or keep) a job teaching grade school without a Master's degree these days.

I graduated from a highly regarded journalism & filmmaking program and I have to say that as far as getting a career, it was actually a net negative. People who had gone straight from high school to internships or volunteer work were light-years ahead of people who had been wasting their time in classes. (I was one of the few who did both, so I wasn't as badly off.)

And yet they graduate several hundred people a year from this program, most of whom will never get a paying job in their field.

That's really interesting. Out of curiosity, why do you think it's so hard for you to get a job in the industry, despite graduating from a well regarded program? Or maybe to rephrase, since you didn't say didn't get a job, why is having a well regarded degree a negative?

I'm different -- by the time I graduated, I didn't want a job in that industry. I'm speaking about everyone else.

The arts degree glut is pretty simple. They train too many people for too few jobs.

In the case of communications and journalism, there are other issues. What they teach is largely irrelevant to the coming era of journalism. Furthermore, although technology skills are sine qua non, most of the time you spend is in classes, learning from people who can't get jobs in the industry. You have to beg and plead for even a little time with outdated equipment. (My degree was in the late 90s to early 2000s, so things may have changed now -- but can you imagine a worse preparation for the last decade then learning to cut tape on reel-to-reels? In a single week, on a home computer, you could get more experience using audio editing equipment than I did in an entire year.)

If you were truly fascinated by media studies then I'm not going to say it's a waste of time. But in all honesty we just don't need that many academics that study media.

Also, on the journalism side, the news industry is contracting and unionized, so it is highly unlikely you can get a career by traditional routes. Again, the better education would have been to throw up a website or blog in your spare time, or get a camera and start shooting something -- anything. Or offer to work for free at a local TV station right out of college. People who did this got jobs later. I happened to do that kind of thing too, and I could have leveraged it into a real job in that industry, but didn't because programming was more interesting.

Most of those kids enter the program with dreams of working on TV or film or making music videos and such. A smaller number actually want to be journalists.

Mostly, the closest they get to working in communications is doing PR or possibly advertising. Few of them are doing anything related to their degree after five years.

I don't want to put too many words in his mouth, but I think the point he's getting at is that there's an opportunity cost to education, above and beyond the (significant) direct costs.

If you spend 4 years studying something, that's four years you can't spend studying something else. If it turns out that you studied the "wrong thing", you are going to be four years behind the people who took the other path. So it's not hard to see how that education program could look like a net negative.

Yup. We knew that even going into the program.

There were people who were so into making films they'd shot music videos and such before their very first film class. Mostly these people were there for pro forma reasons -- they just wanted the piece of paper.

"If they claim they have a degree from that university from then on, they would be charged with fraud."

Then, one just would claim one haD a degree from that university. I don't think it would be feasible to outlaw all ways one could leak thatbonformation.

might want to put an age limit on that. I can see some situations where that would be a non-problem to do (e.g. retirement).

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