Matters of Degree

Kristine Hayes

AS SOMEONE WHO’S been employed in academia for more than two decades, I often wonder about the future of higher education. One trend seems clear: At a time when more companies are doing away with degree requirements for new hires, more colleges are doing away with studying. The so-called college experience appears to be more important than academics. Indeed, grade inflation has been running rampant since the 1960s.

Meanwhile, student debt loads are the highest they’ve ever been. The pandemic has also created financial hardship for many colleges and universities, and it may take years for some to rebound.

Twenty-somethings have access to a variety of college alternatives these days. Coding boot camps promise high-paying jobs after just six months of schooling. An infrastructure bill could create hundreds of thousands of jobs for those interested in working in construction and building technology. Military enlistment, starting a business and paid apprenticeship programs are all viable options for young adults looking to avoid accumulating large amounts of college debt.

From my own perspective, I don’t know whether to be worried or encouraged by the trends I see in higher education in my own state. Last year, Oregon’s largest private college announced it would be closing forever. But this year, several institutions in the state are also seeing record enrollments.

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