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A Reckoning in Higher Education

Wednesday August 2021


Josh Mitchell Reporter, Wall Street Journal; author of The Debt Trap: How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe
Kay S. Hymowitz William E. Simon Fellow | Contributing Editor, City Journal @KayHymowitz
Richard Vedder Professor Emeritus of Economics, Ohio University; author of Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America
Brian C. Anderson Editor, City Journal @BrianAcity

When Joseph Epstein objected last year, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, to First Lady Jill Biden’s use of the title “doctor” in reference to her Ed.D., the dustup unintentionally exposed the roots of degree inflation and the dangers of our broader societal impulse for hyper-credentialism. Are master’s degrees worth it? Not according to some of the Columbia graduates profiled in a recent viral piece about student debt. And what about undergraduate degrees? Recent outcomes demonstrate that fewer than six in ten college students finish their degrees in four years, raising questions about students’ preparedness and fit for the programs into which they’re funneled.

With rising student debt and a surplus of majors (and master’s degrees) unresponsive to labor-market needs, the higher-education industrial complex seems to be spiraling toward a reckoning, and the forces exacerbating the “surplus of elites” (as Richard Vedder puts it) are leaving some of the most vulnerable students in danger—of falling into debilitating debt, of failing to find meaningful jobs that match their skillsets, and of struggling to find sustainable careers and to start families. Meanwhile, academia profits off a system that fails to serve students, taxpayers, and the greater labor economy.

Join City Journal editor Brian Anderson for a conversation with City Journal contributing editor Kay Hymowitz, Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Mitchell, and Ohio University economist Richard Vedder to discuss the reckoning in higher education, the so-called overproduction of elites, and the potential for “opportunity pluralism” to deflate higher-education’s administrative bloat and improve career and salary outcomes for all.