What has happened is that in a recessionary and sluggish economy, potential customers have been figuring out that a college diploma may not be a good investment -- particularly if it entails six-figure college loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
The Millennial Generation that voted so heavily for Barack Obama -- 66 to 32 percent in 2008, 60 to 37 percent in 2012 -- has had a hard time finding jobs, even with diplomas in hand. Especially if their degrees are in gender studies or similar fields beloved of academics.
In even worse condition are those students who never get a degree, a disproportionate number of whom are blacks and Hispanics admitted under affirmative action programs who prove unable to keep up with the pace of instruction at schools where most students enter much better prepared.
We see in higher education something like what we saw in housing. Government programs aimed at increasing college education and homeownership, particularly among minorities, turn out to hurt many of the intended beneficiaries.
The intentions of the people who created these programs were good. The results -- well, not so much.
Home ownership is a good thing generally, but it's not good for everybody. The young and transient, for example, are often better off renting.
Higher education is a good thing generally too, but again not for everyone. People whose talents are more artisanal than academic are often better off getting a job or vocational training than seeking a degree that guarantees them student loan debt but not a job.
College and university administrators are not used to being disciplined by market forces. For years, they thought they were above all that.
Many got into the habit of producing a product that didn't serve their consumers' interests well. In a prosperous and growing economy, there seems to be no penalty for doing so.
In more straitened circumstances, they are discovering that, sooner or later, markets work. Their old business model is no longer working.
Colleges and universities have been doing a good job of meeting their administrators' needs. Now, in the new normal economy, they're scrambling to serve society's needs, as well.