Is 2022 the year when young people should postpone college?
"Nobody thinks of anything as long as his luck is good," Kurt Vonnegut observed in one of his novels. "Why should he?"
American colleges have had a remarkable run of good luck. For half a century, they've enjoyed a steady supply of students and a cornucopia of federal money flowing into their coffers. International students flocked to American universities in ever larger numbers, and they obligingly paid their tuition bills with no complaints about the cost.
Salaries for university presidents rose ever upward, and administrative staffs became more and more bloated with overpaid administrators--vice presidents and associate vice presidents, deans and associate deans, provosts, and executive vice provosts.
Universities launched aggressive building programs: luxury dorms, ostentatious athletic facilities, world-class student recreation centers. Wealthy alumni made fat contributions to have their names on all these gleaming edifices.
Tuition went up every year to pay for all this, but students paid their bills with federal and private student loans, and no one complained.
Those were the gravy days!
Then, in March 2020, the black swan arrived. COVID swept across the country, forcing universities to close their campuses. College leaders shuttered all those glittering student rec centers, emptied out the posh student dorms, and canceled college sporting events.
Still, no worries. The coronavirus pandemic wouldn't last forever. How could it? In a year or so, the crisis would be over, and everything would be back to normal in the halcyon world of academe.
In fact, University leaders patted themselves on the back for responding to the pandemic so nimbly. In a matter of days, virtually every college in America had kicked their students off-campus and forced them to finish the spring semester by taking courses on their home computers.
But students weren't happy about taking classes online, and they filed hundreds of lawsuits, demanding refunds for their tuition and fees. More than 300 lawsuits were filed.
Now student enrollments are declining--especially in the for-profit sector, the community colleges, and the non-elite private schools. For reasons that college presidents can't seem to understand, students don't want to pay $70,000 a year to attend online classes from the parents' basements.
In addition, universities across the country have been mired in scandals and litigation: sexual misconduct by varsity athletes, bribery in the admissions offices, and accusations of race discrimination.
In sum, American higher education's run of good luck has run dry.
So, if you are a young person, is 2022 a good year to postpone going to college? A good year to let things settle down?
I think it is. Unless you clearly understand how your college education will improve your life, don't take out crushing student loans to pay tuition at a college that won't let you on its campus.