The History Behind the Higher Education Bubble

“Are we in a higher education bubble?” was one of many questions asked on Quora last month.

The question was answered by Daniel Kaplan, schoolteacher of 15 years. Published on Slate this month, Kaplan’s answer began with, “In a way, yes.”

He goes on to explain that since World War II, higher education has been the standard for American children. Rewind back two generations, and not finishing high school was not such a big deal. Now, a high school degree or equivalent is required for almost every type of employment.

Kaplan notes that the higher education bubble can be traced back to World War I, when free tuition was offered to young soldiers who served. However, the system was weakened because there were now college-educated students who could have joined the blue-collar workforce. This would allow them to start navigating up the company ladder. Now, the middle class is almost obsolete.

Since the first and second World Wars, education has been pushed on everyone. Kaplan thinks that this may have something to do with the paranoia America was experiencing around the time of the Cold War. The fear and anxiety at being watched scared Americans into starting an education race.

Now that the military and some unskilled labor organizations are asking for a high school diploma or GED, the value of a college degree has gone down. But as the value of a college degree is decreasing, the cost of higher education is increasing. Neither is a professor’s salary; it has only gone up twenty-five percent in the past twenty years, while the cost of tuition has tripled.

Kaplan states that the high cost of college “can only go on for a certain amount of time” before it’s unsustainable. Kaplan fears that the sometimes unpayable debt students are left with will collapse the higher education system. That, coupled with the increasing value of a higher education degree, will be catastrophic for the system in the future. As to what effect these things will have, Kaplan cannot predict.

Read the full answer: Are We in a Higher Education Bubble?

Sarah Samel

Sarah Samel

Sarah Samel is an Emerson College senior Writing, Literature and Publishing student focusing on young adult fiction. When she’s not browsing bookstores, she’s blogging or jotting down ideas for new poems and stories.