That could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself

Monday, January 24th, 2022

More than 1 million fewer students are enrolled in college now than before the pandemic began:

Compared with the fall of 2019, the last fall semester before the coronavirus pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has fallen a total of 6.6%. That represents the largest two-year decrease in more than 50 years, Shapiro says.

The nation’s community colleges are continuing to feel the bulk of the decline, with a 13% enrollment drop over the course of the pandemic. But the fall 2021 numbers show that bachelor’s degree-seeking students at four-year colleges are making up about half of the shrinkage in undergraduate students, a big shift from the fall of 2020, when the vast majority of the declines were among associate degree seekers.

“The phenomenon of students sitting out of college seems to be more widespread. It’s not just the community colleges anymore,” says Shapiro. “That could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself. I think if that were the case, this is much more serious than just a temporary pandemic-related disruption.”


“The easiest assumption is that they’re out there working,” says Shapiro. “Unemployment is down. The labor market is good. Wages are rising for workers in low-skilled jobs. So if you have a high school diploma, this seems like a pretty good time to be out there making some money.”


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    The colleges brought this upon themselves — grossly inflated tuition + woke hectoring instead of education. All at the same time that alternatives to old line Leftie colleges mushroomed.

    Most high school students know people who are struggling with college debt, and don’t want to go down that road. Plumbers & electricians can earn more than most lawyers.

    It would be interesting to learn the gender impact of reduced enrollments. Male interest in college has been dropping for years, due to discrimination and biased high school educational practices. Is the current drop because of even fewer male students? Or are female students now also avoiding colleges?

  2. VXXC says:

    Sure. Fine.

    The ones who want power under the present system will go College/Woke. Under the present system everything is politicized, everything is politicized, anything is politicized. Ergo if they want anything they’ll be political college or no…and who wants to be a plumber if you are literally shit on and powerless, regardless of your “debt”?

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    I’m going to bet that the value of mere credentials is so high, regardless of quality, that students will continue to enroll in college at high levels. The recent drop-off is almost certainly covid related.

    This does not mean that all disciplines will survive. But each year produces as a new crop of teen ignoramuses incapable of rational choice.

    The real threat to college enrollments is the declining white population. White teens are the fodder of colleges, and as their number shrinks, so will college enrollment.

  4. Harry Jones says:

    The ones who want power under the current system will inadvertently destroy the current system.

    They are shipworms, trying to get on board by drilling through the hull. They think they’ve been on a long march through the institutions, but they are marine invertebrates, and what they’re doing isn’t marching.

    The rats are the first to desert a sinking ship. Rats aren’t stupid. And they know how to march. They can also swim if they have to.

    We need to start building entirely new institutions. The ones we’ve got can’t be salvaged.

  5. Mike in Boston says:

    Plumbers & electricians can earn more than most lawyers, but engineers still have larger and more secure paychecks than plumbers and electricians.

    An engineering degree is still worthwhile, even though engineering students are forced to waste time and money on woke indoctrination.

    The fact that no engineering school has so far jettisoned the massive albatross of wokeness around its neck just shows how successfully the class of woke administrators has successfully subjugated the engineering faculty.

  6. Harry Jones says:

    I recently saw an article about a kid who is fabricating chips in his garage. Not sure I entirely believe it. But the possibility highlights the distinction between engineering knowledge and an engineering degree. Also the difference between being an employee and getting stuff done.

    Degrees and jobs are all about status in the system that currently exists. If the system fails catastrophically, you can wallpaper your outhouse with those diplomas and contracts.

    But if you know — in detail — how a society should work, you may be able to build a new society in your garage.

  7. Mike in Boston says:

    Sure, you don’t need to go to engineering school to learn engineering.

    But (to pick an example I know) circuit design is hard. It would sure help if you had access to an experienced older guy to walk you through it step by step. Maybe he could even give you example problems you could work through, plus access to a room you could work in, with power supplies and oscilloscopes. You’d probably need to pay him for the hours he spent away from his engineering consulting gig, though. And it would be nice to have a stockroom of components you could draw on, and simulation software. But all that is started to get expensive.

    So to make this more economical, maybe you could get together with some other people who are interested to engage his services and share the costs. You could even study together and help each other out.

    Hey! You’ve just re-invented engineering school. (All my professors had side consulting gigs on which they spent full time during the summer.)

  8. Isegoria says:

    “Hey! You’ve just re-invented engineering school.”

    I’m reminded of the Hippie Jamfest.

  9. Harry Jones says:

    Perhaps engineering school is ripe for a re-inventing.

    Along with a lot of things. I’d say build back better but that phrase has been ruined forever.

  10. Harry Jones says:

    Textbooks and self-administered texts can all be open sourced. That leaves lab.

    Not every credentialed scientist can afford his own personal supercollider. How do they cope? You book some time on the big lab equipment. Can that not work for college students? Timeshare the wet bench.

    You say you need a teacher? A mentor? That’s optional. If you feel you need a tutor, hire a tutor. If you feel you need a classroom setting, book a semester at a cram school. If you learn better on your own, then learn on your own. One size need not fit all.

  11. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Oliver Heaviside (1850–1925) was the guy who actually wrote what we know today as Maxwell’s Equations for electricity and magnetism. Maxwell (1831–1879) had written a thousand-page treatise using very complex mathematical symbolism which almost no-one took the time to try to understand — until Heaviside made it comprehensible, providing a key foundation for modern life.

    The point of this tale is that Heaviside was from a poor English family, had minimal formal education, and was effectively self-taught. Maybe today’s students are right to rethink the value of college.

  12. Contaminated NEET says:

    “Textbooks and self-administered texts can all be open sourced. That leaves lab.”

    So what? Higher education is not about learning. It’s about paying to have an official institution certify that you have learned, and at the higher end, to socialize and make connections with the future ruling class.

    Why would these powerful, wealthy institutions and ruling cliques allow you to bypass their chokepoint without swearing fealty to them and paying their toll? The power to certify and credential is the power to determine people’s futures, and they’re not going to let it slip through their fingers in a fit of absent-minded idealism.

    Learning on your own is admirable, but it’s totally opaque to bureaucratic organizations. A certificate from a name brand university on the other hand means everything, even if you didn’t learn a thing there.

  13. Harry Jones says:

    Certification, you say? Bureaucratic organizations, you say? These are precisely the institutions that are self destructing.

    By the time the new Western civilization is well enough developed to be seen as a threat, the old one will be in no condition to allow or forbid anything.

    In the meantime, they’re not paying attention. Have you noticed that the elites don’t seem to listen to the rest of us, don’t take us seriously, talk down to us, tell us absurd lies-to-children? They’re out of touch. That can work to the advantage of those who see the opportunity it implies. When the big people aren’t looking, the little people can do as they please.

    No need to topple what is about to fall over of its own accord. It’s just a matter of having something ready to replace it.

    Look at France. How many republics have they had so far? We can do better than that. See the collapse coming and avoid the ugly interim period.

    It’s worth noting that our First Republic has lasted far longer than any of theirs. The Founding Fathers set the curve, but they weren’t Olympian gods. Nothing made by mortals lasts forever. Have a replacement ready to go, and you’ll be fine.

    The next great republic will start somewhere in the continent of North America. It will seem to come out of nowhere in a time of seeming calamity. It will come as a Revelation.

  14. Felix says:

    Contaminated NEET,

    Well said. I’m guessing that is a hangout for people who realized your point about certification at an early age.

    Added: That valuable certificate attests that the holder has, if young, spent their entire life happily and successfully pleasing authority figures. Ah, such a nice certificate if the holder, in their main life, can similarly please customers.

    It is, though, common to hear highly schooled 20-somethings saying nonsense that is clearly meant to please their former teachers. Habits die hard.

  15. Harry Jones says:

    Don’t try too hard to please an authority figure who’s on his way out. You may piss off his future replacement.

  16. Jim says:

    You live up to your name, Contaminated NEET. Your clear words ring out in the silence, true evidence of the free mind of a free man.

  17. Jim says:

    Bob Sykes: “I’m going to bet that the value of mere credentials is so high, regardless of quality, that students will continue to enroll in college at high levels.”

    You’ll lose your shirt. Boomers value degrees so highly thanks to historical accident: degreed Boomers were reliably 1-2 std. deviations more competent than their non-degreed counterparts.

    That’s more than the difference between blacks and whites. “Degrees must have caused this,” the administrators thought. “Let’s send everyone to college to make them smart and us rich.” And so they did.

    But as the Boomers finally die off they’ll be replaced by people who just don’t care as much because they’re trying to find reasonably competent underlings to hire but since everyone has a degree not only is it no longer a reliable signal of competence it’s also not a reliable signal of conformity.

    That’s the apex. The fun part is the downslope, when people start realizing (first at the margins, soon trickling down) that suddenly a suspicious proportion of the Painfully Talented Young People of all walks of life are running around without degrees. “So you went to college, huh,” they’ll ask, “my condolences.”

    That’s when most people stop advertising that they “went to college” and start trying to cover up. (They’ll fail.)

    No later than 2027.

  18. Sam J. says:

    I’m with Contaminated NEET on this. You don’t need a degree to work for yourself, but it bypasses a lot of hurdles in large organizations. You also can start in organizations much higher up.

    It’s not who you know, but who knows you.

  19. Jim says:

    College doesn’t help one at the great game of capitalism because between title of equity and title of degree, degree is invariably the inferior. Those who hold degrees serve at the pleasure of those who own equity.

    And even if your highest aim in life is to serve those who own equity, no degree will ever get you into the executive suite. The only way to become an executive is to “know” (have weak ties to) executives (good) or major investors (better) or owners (best). If you don’t already have ties, you have an open-ended problem requiring “outside of the box” thinking and no amount of having-degrees will help. And the organizational class arteries have hardened. The value of knowing middle management or HR or PR or sales is bupkis. Executives, major investors, or owners.

    Today when you look at execs at major companies you still see people with degrees. That’s because they’re old and their degrees are from the seventies, eighties, and nineties. You’ll start noticing the fracturing when it comes to execs who would have graduated in the naughts and a total breakage by the tens and beyond.

    Again, the past efficacy of degrees is an historical accident. It wasn’t exclusively or even primarily the consequence of phenomenal competence, although that was its greatest legitimator. The yuge legibility of competence and status briefly conferred-signified by a degree was the anomaly. We’re now beginning to revert to historical norms.

    And when the tanks of normalization begin to roll, they roll all the way to the capital.

  20. Sam J. says:

    “And even if your highest aim in life is to serve those who own equity, no degree will ever get you into the executive suite.”

    We’re not talking about the same thing. I was relating the utility of a degree for the average Joe to get his foot in the door of larger organizations.

    If you want to reach the heights then a degree is useless. Large amounts of the economy are staffed through nepotism or modern mafia type ties bonded by family or blackmail.

    In facts reaching the heights is becoming ever more difficult without these ties.

  21. Jim says:

    You’re not wrong, Sam, but our world is increasingly an all-or-nothing affair. Professional paper-pushing Average Joe is a class well on the way to extinction, caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is advanced software and the hard place is a variety of government mandates. Or maybe the hard place is advanced software and the rock is government. Either way, the value of a degree is intrinsically tied to the fate of the PMC, and the PMC is doomed.


  22. Seven Laughing Skulls says:

    Sam, I suspect you’re a little bit out of touch. These days, if a large organization requires a degree, you don’t want to work there. They’ll probably subject you to various forms of ritual humiliation, like diversity training and lectures on “equity.” And that’s far from the worst…

    White men are wising up.

  23. Sam J. says:

    Jim says, “You’re not wrong, Sam, but our world is increasingly an all-or-nothing affair.”

    Seven Laughing Skulls says, “Sam, I suspect you’re a little bit out of touch. These days, if a large organization requires a degree, you don’t want to work there.”

    I get all this. I’m perfectly cognizant of how technology is changing things. Some of my assumptions are based on some people surviving the released plagues that are going on.

    The Chinese will of course survive, as they have when they stopped the recently released hemorrhagic fever.

    I think you people are missing my point. Not everyone wants to be “master of the universe”.

    You know people used to remove themselves from society and live in caves or on top of poles or in monasteries.

    And many people just want mid-level jobs and for that a college degree might be useful as a stepping stone. That the utility will and has gone down is not relevant because in the “all or nothing” you speak of that someone has done some sort of work or at least enough to get a degree will always show that they know something. Maybe the wrong things or not much but it does show they are capable of following through and that’s not nothing.

    People being able to follow through a long set of task is actually a good indicator that they might be useful no matter how much you people make fun of a college degree.

    You can argue with the last paragraph, but I think you will look increasingly silly. So by all means go right ahead and do so as it will bring me great amusement.

  24. Sam J. says:

    “…the value of a degree is intrinsically tied to the fate of the PMC, and the PMC is doomed. DOOOOMED!”

    What’s a PMC. PigManCow, as opposed to PigManBear.

  25. Jim says:

    PMC is short for Professional Managerial Class, the world’s most endangered species of homo sapiens. The Private Military Company/Contractor kind of PMC is a growth industry like few others.

    People being able to follow through a long set of tasks is actually a good indicator that they might be “useful” if the tasks are well-designed and relevant and the payoff is reasonable.

    What if the tasks are poorly designed, nonsensical, and irrelevant, and a typical payoff for “following through” is a huge pile of non-dischargeable debt, a mediocre dead-end job, and a lifetime of rent payments to Vanguard’s investment firm’s property management firm’s tenement housing department?

    And now the AI is coming for your mediocre dead-end job?

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