Concord University in West Virginia and Clemson University in South Carolina were both founded shortly after the Civil War. During the 20th century, each grew rapidly. Now, the two public universities that sit just 300 miles apart face very different circumstances.
Clemson, a large research university, enrolled its largest-ever freshman class in 2017 and in December broke ground on an $87 million building for the college of business.
Concord, a midsize liberal-arts school, has seen its freshman enrollment fall 19% in five years. It has burned through all $12 million in its reserves and can’t afford to tear down two mostly empty dormitories…
According to an analysis of 20 years of freshman-enrollment data at 1,040 of the 1,052 schools listed in The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking, U.S. not-for-profit colleges and universities are segregating into winners and losers—with winners growing and expanding and losers seeing the first signs of a death spiral.
The Journal ranking, which includes most major public and private colleges with more than 1,000 students, focused on how well a college prepares students for life after graduation. The analysis found that the closer to the bottom of the ranking a school was, the more likely its enrollment was shrinking.
That is from Douglas Belkin at the WSJ, via multiple MR readers, some of them excellent.
Many of you have asked me for further commentary on Bryan Caplan’s education book, which is doing very well. I’ll be doing a Conversation with Bryan, but for the time being I’ll say this: everyone obsesses over the mood-affiliated “I’m going to lower the status of education signaling argument.” Hardly anyone has discussed what to me is Bryan’s strangest assumption, namely a sociologically-rooted, actually anti-economics “conformity is stronger than you think” argument, which Bryan uses to assert the status quo will continue more or less indefinitely. It won’t. To the extent Bryan is correct (and that you can debate, but at least he is more correct than most people in the educational establishment will let on), competency-based learning and changes in employer behavior will in fact bring about a new equilibrium…not quickly, but certainly in well under two decades.
And what about on-line education? Well, a lot of students don’t like it because they have to actually work on their own and pay attention. To the extent education really is just signaling, that should give on-line options a brighter future all the more. But not in the Caplanian world view, as conformity serves once again as an intervening factor. For better or worse, Bryan’s book subverts economics as a science at least as much as it does education. Bryan of course is smart enough to see the trade-offs here, and he knows if the standard model of economic competition were allowed to reign supreme, we would (even with subsidies, relative to those subsidies) tend to see strong moves toward relatively efficient means of signaling, if only through changes in the relative sizes of institutions.