Maybe The Academic Bubble Is Finally Popping

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Friday, Apr 05, 2024 - 02:20 AM

Authored by Jeffrey A. Tucker via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

(Emily Karakis/


Academia has fallen on hard times, most signified by the disgrace of Harvard. When high-paid, high-status professors are revealed as plagiarists, and then kept on with high six-figure salaries anyway, and when others are fired for opposing inhumane COVID-19 controls, one has to wonder.

Such places have only their intellectual integrity; when that falls, what are they left with other than their $51 billion endowment?

Let’s just use Harvard as a proxy for universities generally. How are they faring these days? Is the generation that is now in a position to decide to attend them—rather than develop an actual skill in a trade—and choose to give up four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars really going to take the bait?

It appears that this is seriously in doubt. The last of the last generation born in the 20th century, so-called Generation Z, has entered college and faces the decision to continue on the path or take a different route. It so happens that skills-based trades are paying huge salaries right now. That’s because there is a massive shortage of people who know how to do stuff.

This happens when you have fifty years in which millions have been trained to be one or another form of “intellectual” (or “mind worker”) even as the market for such “skills” has long been saturated.

Plus the job is awful in any case, contrary to what had long been promised. Most members of the professional managerial class of highly educated desk sitters are wholly miserable people. Most of their lives are spent following orders and fitting into the bureaucracy, with little or no creativity, much less adventure. All you get is a fancy title and some social status within some circles, and even that is changing.

As for academic jobs, truly, do you know a happy and wholly content professor or university administrator? I’ve personally never known any professional more willing to kvetch about his or her job, telling tales of amazing intrigue, perfidy, and backstabbery. One always wants to ask, “Why don’t you leave?” but we know the truth. There is nowhere to go. Academic jobs are hard to come by and extremely difficult to convert from one institution to another.

Such people have no other skills.

It’s about time that young people realize that there are other ways to pursue a career. We might finally have reached the point at which people are going their own way rather than following the prescribed path for the illusion of upward social mobility.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports:

“Long beset by a labor crunch, the skilled trades are newly appealing to the youngest cohort of American workers, many of whom are choosing to leave the college path. Rising pay and new technologies in fields from welding to machine tooling are giving trade professions a face-lift, helping them shed the image of being dirty, low-end work. Growing skepticism about the return on a college education, the cost of which has soared in recent decades, is adding to their shine.

“Enrollment in vocational training programs is surging as overall enrollment in community colleges and four-year institutions has fallen. The number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16 percent last year to its highest level since the National Student Clearinghouse began tracking such data in 2018. The ranks of students studying construction trades rose 23 percent during that time, while those in programs covering HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair increased 7 percent.”

Plus, come on, how cool is it to be a welder? That’s amazing. Same with being an electrician, a plumber, a cook, a builder, or just about anything else where you use your hands. These days, the money is great to accompany the adventure. Actually doing things seems to be gaining traction.

For the fourth year, “median annual pay for new construction hires has eclipsed earnings for new hires in both the professional services and information sectors—such as accountants or IT maintenance workers,” the WSJ reports.

Apparently, a major factor here driving this is the pandemic lockdowns in the following sense. Lots of kids saw their parents working from home for two years during this time. Seeing them sit at the dining room table and stare at screens all day, and then interact with colleagues only through more apps and platforms, and then finding out that this is precisely what they do at work all the time, kind of drained away the romance.

Who wants to do that? Let’s just say not everyone.

Plus, it is not unknown to white males that they are not exactly in high demand in a professional workplace beset by diversity, equity, and inclusion preferences for anyone but them. No one wants to be in a profession in which you are discriminated against—and denounced and shamed relentlessly—based on factors you cannot change, such as biology.

Why not get into a field that cares nothing about your sex and race and instead judges you by your skills and character? That seems far more appealing.

The WSJ further reports: “In a survey of high school and college-age people by software company Jobber last year, 75 percent said they would be interested in vocational schools offering paid, on-the-job training. The rise of generative AI is changing the career calculus for some young people. The majority of respondents Jobber surveyed said they thought blue-collar jobs offered better job security than white-collar ones, given the growth of AI.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents in Jobber’s survey said their parents wanted them to go to college. Professions dominated by college-educated workers generally earn more over time. Professional and business services workers, for example, make a median $78,500 compared with $69,200 in construction, according to ADP.”

The point about parents is interesting. I’ve been predicting for decades that the college bubble would pop. But it hasn’t. The reason is parents. They want the best possible path forward for kids. They might not know for sure that a college degree will guarantee a good life, but surely it can help. Plus a degree is something they “can always fall back on.”

You know the line and the intuition. It’s a Boomer-born attitude that comes from the postwar experience with the GI Bill. An entire generation was led to believe that putting newly returned soldiers into college formed the basis of postwar prosperity and put millions into the middle class.

As a result, we’ve had generations of parents who have strongly recommended college to their kids. And they have been willing to pay the big bucks to make it possible, even once it became impossible to “work your way through college.” Parents just kept paying. And then the student loan market fired up to pick up the slack from what the parents could not afford. This saddled at least two generations with six-figure debts as they started their careers.

This entire calculation is a massive error.

What it forgets is that giving up four years between the ages of 18 and 22 sitting at a desk rather than gaining valuable career experience is a massive opportunity cost that comes at the prime of life. Indeed, it sets you back. Then if you end up in a lucrative profession, you still have to take vocational training in the form of professional certifications—the start of your actual education about which no one prepared you.

That’s the major cost of college: what you otherwise would be doing during those four years that you did not do. By comparison even with the dollar expense associated with tuition and books, that’s a huge cost. The ensuing debt, meanwhile, is an egregious way to start off a life.

What exactly would pop this bubble? It would take a generation of kids who decide to defy their own parents’ wishes and pursue a genuine skill rather than waste time memorizing what professors tell them and spitting it back on tests. Is that happening finally? It seems so. Apparently, it was the lockdowns that broke the spell. Kids look at their parents’ boring lives and have decided that they want to do something more interesting.

Good. This college stuff has been the rage since the end of World War II. Despite its persistence, it makes no sense. Before World War II, the pattern for men was to develop skills as a teen, finish one’s education with high school, and start being an adult. For women, it was the same, contrary to myth. They were typically fully employed until marriage and starting a family and then left the workplace to raise a family.

There were outliers, of course, but the pattern generally held, and it worked. As for college and intellectual pursuits, they grew up with civilization itself, but higher education was for a subset of the population that felt the call toward what we used to call the “life of the mind.” It makes no sense to universalize that calling by force.

There are other ways to have a good life besides being able to hang a degree on the wall. Indeed, that piece of paper might not amount to much at all, and come at too high a price.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times or ZeroHedge.