According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, American universities lured students back to campus this fall by deceptively promising to offer at least some in-person instruction. Then–after the students showed up and paid their tuition and fees–the colleges changed their policies and offered most or all of their classes in an online format.
In the Examiner’s view:
[C]ollege administrators pulled a classic con artist’s bait and switch. They asked college students to return to campus and bilked parents out of full-freight fees with the promise that at least some instruction would be in-person rather than online. Shortly before school opened, with the money safely in the bank, they shifted exclusively or at least nearly exclusively to online instruction, but asked the student to come back to campus anyway.
Is this a fair indictment? I think it is. Schools all over the United States shifted to online teaching for the fall semester, which almost everyone agrees is inferior to face-to-face instruction. Nevertheless, the schools did not discount their tuition, and they did not close their dormitories.
How can a college tell students that in-person classes are dangerous while continuing to stuff the kids into residence halls and frat houses, where the risk of contracting the coronavirus is high?
In my view, American colleges responded to the COVID-19 crisis to maximize revenue at the expense of their students’ health. It was nuts for universities to pack young adults into dorms at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still not under control.
But the colleges were forced to adopt this reckless policy because they need the cash flow. Many universities financed their dorm-building sprees by floating bonds or entering into partnerships with private corporations that funded the construction projects in return for getting a percentage of the room-and-board fees. These schools have got to keep their dorms full to meet their financial obligations.
Unfortunately for American higher education, the coronavirus disrupted its business model. Parents are not going to pay fifty grand a year for their children to take online classes, and they are not going to pay room-and-board fees so their kids can live in crowded dormitories where they face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.
This cash-before-kids policy is not going to work for a lot of colleges. Many will close in the coming year. And the upcoming shut-down of American schools is not just due to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of families have figured out that that the universities are charging way too much for mediocre academic programs that don’t lead to good jobs.
As James Howard Kunstler put it in a recent blog essay:
[T]he colleges and universities are [not] going down hard . . . just because Covid-19 has interrupted their business plan. Rather, because of the stupendous and gross dishonesty that higher ed has fallen into. The racketeering around college loans was bad enough but the intellectual racketeering around fake fields of study, thought-crime persecutions, and an epic sexual hysteria has disgraced the very mission of higher ed, turned it into something no better than a sick cult . . . .
I could not have said it better myself. Americans are awaking to the fact that much of our nation’s higher education system is a big scam, and they are increasingly unwilling to subject their children to an education system that looks more and more like the Spanish Inquisition.