Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Market Opportunity for a College with Vision

This piece presupposes you read my last post on Why Colleges Are Doomed. If you don't have time, in it I outline why the typical liberal arts college has a business model that's about to get disrupted upside the head, and few, if any, see what's coming.

The case I made was one that projects less demand and far more supply, but I also suggested that most colleges just aren't getting the job done anymore. Come, drink beer, get a diploma. But worse, universities generally have adopted poisonous philosophies of political correctness. This hasn't caught up to them because of all multi-decade forces that have supported the higher ed model in general (again, see last post). But it will.

Let's be blunt. Universities, particularly in the Northeast, have lost their collective minds. They have allowed their curricula to be polluted with useless, angry, ideological majors such as Women's Studies, Afro-American Studies...pretty much any major that ends in the word "studies." At formerly great institutions like Bowdoin you can study important matters such as "Queer Gardens." Thirty-two  courses like that and they hand you a diploma.

And then...what? Since there's no place in the private sector anymore for people with useless majors, many "studies" grads get recycled right back into academia and become professors, teaching their bile to another generation who, just in case they didn't know they were supposed to be angry with "the system," will be now. Anger on anger, with none of the participants adding anything to society or the economy.

A great deal for 60k a year, no?

Then there's the pitiful record colleges have on free speech, which is to say they're all for it unless it's speech they don't approve of, which is to say anything conservative. Conservatives getting shouted down during campus appearances is a near weekly occurrence. University administrators routinely do nothing, further encouraging campus Maoists.

Graduation speakers? Conservatives need not apply.

I could go on (and on), but I won't, because any informed person reading this already knows about the overwhelming bias in academia. If not, spend five minutes with Google.

So, given the impending apocalypse of the higher education model, it might be time for one or two enlightened colleges to do something radical to ensure their survival, no?

To wit, I have a modest proposal: brand yourself as "conservative." Toss out every half-assed, ideologically-based major. Gladly accept the resignations of the scores of outraged professors. Establish a core curriculum with an emphasis on the Western canon. Require a course on constitutional history. Embrace the study of all cultures but not the notion that all are equally wonderful. Some of them suck.

Don't let anyone graduate without some grounding in math, hard sciences, and at least one foreign language.

Require econ majors to learn Von Hayek and Friedman. Ban Keynes and Krugman? No, that's not what this is about. This is about balance, about understanding both sides of an argument, and then learning how to reason them through on your own. That's what conservatives do. Colleges today are more about indoctrination.

Protect free speech for all, but only for those who express it with civility. Students can embrace the tenets of "Occupy," whatever those are, but they can't occupy the damn quad if it's against the rules.

Ironically, I'm describing how virtually every college in America used to be, circa anytime before around 1968, so one might brand this as "traditional," rather than conservative. But I'm not sure it describes any well-known colleges today.

So, back to the opportunity. Americans very consistently, over time, describe themselves as conservative. The percentage has remained about 40% for a very long time. This doubles the number who describe themselves as "liberal," and this is also very consistent.

Now, of the population of parents who actually foot the tuition bills, how do you suppose those percentages fall out? I'd say it was a safe assumption that north of 50% are conservative.

What if they had just one brand name option that pursued the course I described above? What if just a single college, say a Trinity or a Middlebury, embraced this very different path?

Well, here's what I think would happen. Applications would skyrocket, as would alumni giving. Their national profile would be raised. Maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to thrive through what's to come.

Oh, there would be a very brief and difficult transition, and the New York Times would weigh in disapprovingly, but it would work. You have to think of this in business terms. College is a market, driven by supply and demand. Right now, there is plenty of liberal supply and zero conservative supply, and yet we know there are more conservatives out there than liberals. Real life businesses rarely find market imbalances that are so cut and dry.

Will anyone try this? It would require an incredibly ballsy president, not to mention an iron-willed and board, one that could withstanding the collective howl of the liberal establishment. So, no, in other words.

They will go down with the ship.


  1. Scott: Great idea! Don't forget that MIT still requires ALL students to take Physics, Calculus, and Chemistry. No "$%&#@ Studies" majors, thank you very much. Caltech too... Maybe why we were ranked the #1 University in the world for 2012/2013 (Harvard 3rd, Yale 5th). To heck with waiting for a liberal Arts college to make the switch. We could start our own...

  2. The service academies produce (primarily)engineers. No gender studies to be found. Students believe in traditional values such as duty, honor, and service to country and their fellow man. Cadets and Midshipmen do not get to go out for Pitcher Night at the pub on Thursday. Yet the demand is high and admissions standards match the most competitive civilian schools. Is it any surprise that academy graduates are in demand in the private sector and command salaries on par with the small circle of ultra elite private colleges?

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  4. Hi Scott. My question relates to a comment you made almost as an aside in the Post article. If you can, increasingly, get much the same content through free online courses, exactly how much is playing quarters with a bunch of future ivy league graduates going to be worth? The future of the big prestige schools might be dependent on how much being part of the club trumps actually learning something. If coursera can develop ways to test fairly, so that an employer can determine that a student knows the same material and can be hired for a lot less money, isn't it likely at some point that many will make that shift? Google already has, in large measure. I will be interested in seeing how long it takes our most conservative financial institutions to make a shift in their hiring practices. Of course a lot of those boys have a pretty strong investment in all night games of quarters. I think that is where they got some of the ideas that tanked the system in 2008. Not, I hasten to add, that I intend to disparage banks or drinking games -- I know to whom I write.