Via The Awl: If you visit collegedebt.com, that’s exactly what you find. It’s a stark display, black on white, with an ominous ticker counting up. “Current student loan debt in the United States.” Right now it’s at $1.339 trillion, but by the time you read this, the sum will be larger. The site is owned and operated by self-styled maverick billionaire Mark Cuban, who uses it to drive home a point he makes whenever the media will listen: American higher education is overpriced, and the bubble is going to pop.
Higher education has been pegged as the next bubble since the 2008 housing crisis, and the evidence is compelling. Increases to university tuition and fees outpaced both pre-crisis housing prices and climbing healthcare costs. The growth over the last 35 years certainly looks unsustainable when you plot it on a graph, and America remembers what happens when an asset bubble collapses. But it’s been seven years since the housing crisis, and while new home prices dipped, tuition and fees haven’t really. College costs have sustained more public scrutiny—the cure for bubbles—than real estate ever did before the crash, and still no pop. The average undergraduate now takes out $30,000 in loans. Universities keep expanding, building new facilities and introducing all sorts of auxiliary services. Despite omens to the contrary, the higher education industry is going strong. Analysts are waiting for the bubble to pop; this is the story of why it won’t.