Friday, April 15, 2011

He may be on to something...

The "science" of bubble-calling is debatable, but this is about as reasonable as I have read lately.

Instead, for Thiel, the bubble that has taken the place of housing is the higher education bubble. “A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”
Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe. The excesses of both were always excused by a core national belief that no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated.
Like any good bubble, this belief– while rooted in truth– gets pushed to unhealthy levels. Thiel talks about consumption masquerading as investment during the housing bubble, as people would take out speculative interest-only loans to get a bigger house with a pool and tell themselves they were being frugal and saving for retirement. Similarly, the idea that attending Harvard is all about learning? Yeah. No one pays a quarter of a million dollars just to read Chaucer. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life.  It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars in debt,” Thiel says.
Thiel isn’t totally alone in the first part of his education bubble assertion. It used to be a given that a college education was always worth the investment– even if you had to take out student loans to get one. But over the last year, as unemployment hovers around double digits, the cost of universities soars and kids graduate and move back home with their parents, the once-heretical question of whether education is worth the exorbitant price has started to be re-examined even by the most hard-core members of American intelligensia. [More]
From law school grads amazed to find no interviews after graduation to humanities majors looking at dismal salaries, the cost benefit ratio has shifted fro college educations.

Worse still, we've only started shrinking the state contributions to higher ed. And education is one of the the biggest losers in the budget cutting frenzy. But as Thiel points out even when obvious, bubbles last longer than they should.

What I wonder about is what the collapse if this purported bubble will look like at large universities? How will it affect private colleges?  Who will ge to college in the future?


Karl M. Hess said...

We have a tennant couple living in 1/2 of our farm house and the wife is feeling she was sold a 'bill of goods' with regards to a college education. She went to a very good local private liberal arts college and did well. As she was carrying their second son she commented to my wife, that 'no one ever told me how happy I could be as a stay at home mom, but I have this student loan that is like a house mortgage, and likely we will never be able to own our own home.'

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think education is like water to a fish. If you are educated you don't realize the value of it. A good education is something no one can take away from you. The worse thing we can do is short change education. We do need higher standards for educators IMHO.