For several years, now, there’s been a lot of buzz about the higher education “bubble” and if (or when) it’s going to burst. With any economic bubble, a burst typically begins to loom when the value of something—an innovative dot-com in Silicon Valley, a mortgage on a split-level ranch in Tucson, a four-year degree in forensic anthropology—hasn’t been keeping pace with its cost. In the last few years, with millions of students graduating jobless and in mountainous debt, there’s been a lot of discussion about that value-to-cost ratio in higher ed.

We caught up with two industry experts—Dr. Kent Chabotar, president of Guilford College, and Jack Kramer, a Senior Vice President at Ellucian—and asked them for their opinions on the higher ed bubble. Their opinions differ somewhat on the ways and degrees to which the industry is changing, but both agree that it is incumbent on colleges and universities to adapt, in big ways and small.

Kramer: The Pressures May Change, But The Mission Stays The Same

The question of the bubble bursting really comes down to whether there is still value to getting a post-secondary education, says Kramer. But while the climate of the higher ed industry may have shifted over the last couple of decades, the purpose of higher ed has not.

“What are institutions for? They’re to educate and help people learn,” says Kramer, “and that fundamentally hasn’t changed in decades and frankly even centuries.” But, he adds, the way that institutions are accomplishing that mission has certainly changed, and the pressure to do it in the most economical and efficient way will continue to grow. But to his mind, none of that necessarily means we’ve arrived at a tipping point.

“The bubble isn’t bursting,” say Kramer. “It’s being pressured, by all means, but are we at a point where the value of an education does not exceed the cost? I don’t think so—I really don’t think so.”

To hear more of Kramer’s insights on the state of the industry, you can see his interview on the Evisions YouTube Channel:
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Chabotar: Change Is Coming—But It Looks Different For Publics Than It Does For Privates

Dr. Chabotar says the situation is somewhat different for public institutions than it is for private ones. “I think public education is at a turning point more than private,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a flagship public in this country that hasn’t at least asked the question, ‘Would we be better off private?’ […] So that, for publics, is a sea change.”

On the private side of things, Dr. Chabotar says there is a lot of discussion about how to make things more efficient. A great example is class size. Dr. Chabotar says the attitude used to be: “‘Let’s drive down that student faculty ratio as low as we can for small classes, and let’s not worry about the economic consequences because small classes are good.’” But now, more private institutions are focusing on keeping classes small only where they need to be small, instead of shrinking classes across the board without regard for whether it’s actually adding value or not. “We already do that,” says Dr. Chabotar, “and I think there’s more of that going on.”

See what else Dr. Chabotar has to say about what’s coming down the pike for public and private institutions. See our interview with him on the Evisions YouTube Channel:

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