How Higher Education in America Has Evolved

What in your opinion are some of the biggest problems with education and traditional educational institutions? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jake Schwartz, CEO and Co-Founder of General Assembly, on Quora.

There are many problems with the current state of higher education. I could go into great detail on these (especially if you get a beer in me), but I think it could be summed up by two simple facts:

  1. In the 20th century it became seen as an incontrovertible truth that the best and only way to be a respectable member of society is to have a college degree, and the more degrees you had the better off you are. Our society is religious in the intensity of this belief, and in many ways I wonder if education attainment somehow replaced otherworldly salvation in our collective hive mind. This belief led to all sorts of policy decisions and more importantly a self-fulfilling prophecy - the more people who had a college degree, the more inflated the degree became, and the more necessary it was, not to get ahead but just stay where you were. I think this looks a lot like inflation of a fiat currency, and resulted from a massive confusion of correlation (rich people all seem to have college degrees) with causation (if everyone had college degrees, they'd all be rich!)
  2. Because of the former, the U.S. government started funding college tuition through loans and grants, and subsidies for other lenders as well. This created a third-party payor model, where there was too little accountability in the system. Students felt like it was a good "investment" without asking a lot of questions of their schools. Schools felt more accountable to the government than to the students. And employers were left out almost entirely! It also allowed colleges and universities to raise their prices, *every year*, for almost 30 years. More price inflation than healthcare. There wasn't consumer pressure for more competitive pricing, and the government figured everyone's debt would get paid off by higher earning power. That worked pretty well...until it didn't, and we're still suffering the consequences.

I think you can trace almost every higher education problem back to these two, but there are many more nuanced ways to discuss - I'll need a beer to write more though.

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