Increasing transparency is hitting higher education at the same time it is getting squeezed financially. Universities have seen their endowments plunge as the stock market fell and they got stuck with illiquid investments. State governments have raised tuition at public schools, but budgets have declined. Competition from for-profit universities, with curricula oriented to job opportunities, has been increasing.
People are beginning to note that administrative bloat, so common in government, seems especially egregious in colleges and universities. Somehow previous generations got by and even prospered without these legions of counselors, liaison officers and facilitators. Perhaps we can do so again.
Presidents and politicians of both parties have promised for years to provide college opportunities for everyone and measure progress by the percentage of students enrolled. But it's becoming increasingly clear that college doesn't make sense for everyone. Some simply lack the necessary verbal and math capacity. Others are interested in worthy non-college careers like carpentry.
Still others wonder whether the four-year residential college model is worth the investment when you can spend much less on two years in community college and then transfer to a four-year school.
A century ago, only about 2 percent of American adults graduated from college; in 1910, the number of college graduates nationally was 39,755 -- smaller than the student bodies at many campuses today.
Higher education expanded when the G.I. Bill financed veterans' education after World War II and then expanded further with postwar growth. Government's student loan subsidies have enabled institutions to grow faster over the last three decades than the economy on whose productivity they ultimately depend.
As often happens, success leads to excess. America leads the world in higher education, yet there is much in our colleges and universities that is amiss and, more to the point, suddenly not sustainable. The people running America's colleges and universities have long thought they were exempt from the laws of supply and demand and unaffected by the business cycle. Turns out that's wrong.