Janie Cheaney: The decline and fall of university


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Traditional university learning is giving way to other kinds of learning. That means disruption for individuals as well as for the higher-education industry. Janie B. Cheaney now on why the future belongs to innovators.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: What happens when you raise a child to feel he is the center of your world—that all his needs will be instantly met, all his wants will be supplied, and when he is crossed, he can run to mommy and daddy and they’ll fix it? You end up with a young adult who doesn’t know how to work, meet adversity, or take criticism.

I’m not really talking about child-raising; I’m making a comparison between the entitled child and the entitled university of contemporary America. For the last 60 years at least, Americans have been told that a college degree—any college degree—is.

We’ve made it easier for high school graduates to go to college, with low-interest loans, grants, and scholarships. With more kids headed to university, the universities compete for market share, pouring money into updated dorms, lavish facilities and sports programs, higher professor salaries, and more Deans. Many more deans.

All this takes money, so tuition costs have gone up—and up and up—well over three times the rate of inflation. When loans are easy to get, why not charge what the market will bear?

As a pampered child of presidents, governors, and bureaucrats, “the university” has come to believe itself the center of the world, with inflated ideas of its own importance. It exists for its own sake: degrees to boost the stats, academic papers to gather dust on shelves, prestige professors to teach a handful of graduate courses while adjuncts and assistants grade papers and teach freshmen.

There are dedicated professors working within the system to inspire real learning. But they’ll tell you that the entitlement attitude has spread to the students, many of whom do as little as possible to pass. They are only there so they can walk across a stage and receive the diploma that they’ve been told is their key to success. Instead, it’s often a ball and chain of unfunded debt.

Any institution that exists for its own sake will eventually eat itself. A university that has forgotten its mission will either coast on its reputation or cease to exist.  Small, liberal-arts colleges across the nation have begun to close their doors and sell their assets—a sign of things to come, says Clayton Christensen, of Harvard Business School. He believes that fully half of American colleges and universities will be bankrupt within 10 years. He cites the rise of online learning as a serious disruption in the system.

But an even better indicator is news that several big-name corporations will no longer require a college degree for hiring. Think Google, Apple, Bank of America, Starbucks—they’re looking for self-starters, not paper-pushers.

The future belongs to innovators and hard workers, and that’s not the product American universities have been turning out. A day of reckoning will come for them, as it does for any entitled child—maybe even sooner than they expect.  

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


(Photo/University of the Fraser Valley, Flickr

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Janie Cheaney: The decline and fall of university

  1. Thank you thank you thank you. This truthful perspective has been long overdue!!! ?❤️

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