We’ve all heard President Roth’s defenses of higher education (particularly liberal arts education) in speeches, blog posts, editorials, and more. Now, however, he’s taken it to the next level: television.
Roth joined a variety of experts with a variety of opinions on the question of if a college diploma is worth it. The debate’s been quite a theme lately, with a NYT Room for Debate on it and similar coverage from elsewhere (when the media seizes on something, it goes crazy, doesn’t it?). Roth’s argument was what he has been sticking to from the start:
College is a great investment. And it works so well for so many.
America has built the greatest university sector in the world. And we have our challenges, because that sector has changed dramatically because of change in access, changes in the economy and culture.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, meanwhile, countered that there’s an “education bubble” similar to the housing bubble that burst just a few years ago. Azar Nafisi of Johns Hopkins argued that “universities become sort of like canaries in the mine for a culture. They become the sort of standard of where a culture is going.” Richard Vedder sided with Peter Thiel, saying that “there is a growing disconnect between what the labor market is telling us on the one hand and what college enrollments are on the other.” Roth responded by calling out the whole notion of the “education bubble.”
I think the rhetoric of a bubble is just that. I think it’s — it’s rhetoric and a poor analogy, although I agree that college and universities are not for everyone.
Thiel developed his analogy further, but personally I agreed with when she said “And education is not housing, by the way. We cannot look at it in a utilitarian way.” In response, Richard Vedder turned to statistics showing low college completion rates before saying,
This is not the Wesleyans of the world. Wesleyan is a high-quality university, an elite private school. But many, many other schools have very, very high dropout rates. And that’s another dimension of this that hasn’t been picked up in all this talk about truth and beauty and having people learn about Egyptian civilization.
There’s no real conclusion to the debate, but Judy Woodruff tips off interested parties that there will be “a live chat with several members of Jeff’s panel next Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.” Guess who? Roth and Nafisi will be there, so leave your questions here.