The National Review’s Phi Beta Cons blog has yet another entry in its seeming endless series of posts predicting the imminent doom of academia. Like the world’s worst psychics, the conservative movement keeps declaring its certainty that higher education is a “bubble” and on the verge of annihilation. In reality, there is no bubble in higher education. We are not on the verge of seeing the most stable industry in our society suddenly pop and disappear. But this mass delusion on the right is revealing.
The latest effort is from Jennifer Kabbany: “Loosely defined, the bubble refers to a combination of several factors all coalescing at once, including the rising cost of tuition, the growing irrelevance of a liberal arts degree, ballooning student loan debt, and severe unemployment for college grads.”
The rising cost of tuition and student loan debt reflect the problem of paying for college, not the notion that college is worthless (in fact, they contradict that). Liberal arts degrees aren’t irrelevant, but students going far into debt tend to choose more vocational majors.
And “severe unemployment for college grads” has to be the most laughable line of all. The unemployment rate for college grads was 2.5% in June 2015 (nearly a 25% decline from a year earlier, the best of any group), compared to 8.2% for those with less than a high school diploma.
It’s remarkable that conservatives have developed such a knee-jerk hatred of higher education, imagining that it is a space beyond their control, that they actually have fantasies that it will self-destruct. These bubble fantasies are completely irrational, and contrary to all the facts, but the desire to see this “liberal” institution receive its comeuppance is so powerful that they refuse to believe reality. They are dancing on the grave of academia, never realizing that it’s an empty grave they’ve dug themselves in hopes of seeing it die.
This dance has serious consequences: while the attacks on academia haven’t caused any students to be dumb enough to abandon college (except for a handful handed a hefty bribe by Peter Thiel), they have undermined political support for higher education, leading to funding cuts by Scott Walker and friends. This exacerbates the problems of high tuition and student debt, which fuels another cycle of conservative delusions about the higher education bubble.
That’s one reason why we need to refute this nonsense about a bubble: not because it is even remotely close to becoming true, but because of the danger that the conservative movement is embracing a new anti-intellectual wave that has grave consequences for academia.