(From RealClearPolicy):

How To Survive the Higher-Ed Meltdown

By Thomas K. Lindsay

Higher education is reeling. A recent study demonstrates that a third of colleges and universities are now financially unstable through overbuilding, over-borrowing, and over-diversifying. But the good news is there are schools not only surviving but prospering in these harsh times.

This good news comes from ARAMARK Higher Education’s Presidential Perspectives Series, a national forum authored by college and university presidents. Its Responding to the Commoditization of Higher Education includes an article by Michael MacDowell, president of Pennsylvania’s Misericordia University. MacDowell traces the historical roots of the higher-education crisis. Key to how we got to this point was society’s decision that nearly all should attend college, which raised costs for taxpayers. Moreover, with more-universal admissions, greater numbers of entering-college students find themselves “not ready for the experience,” leading them to drop out (often with student-loan debt) or to “take many years to graduate, thereby increasing the cost to taxpayers, themselves, and their families.” Simply put, with rising access, costs increased while student success fell.

As a result, government and the public began pressuring schools to become more efficient, resulting in increased class sizes, mass, online learning, and “homogeneous program offerings,” producing “inevitably, less attention to individual students.” With programs growing ever-more homogeneous, “a college degree is rapidly becoming a commodity,” a trend exacerbated by funding cuts by cash-strapped states. Ironically, government initiatives to increase quality and efficiency have “the unintended consequence of not only limiting differentiation” among institutions, “but also stifling innovation,” which increases homogenization.” A final dash of salt in the wound: Accountability-aiming requests for additional data compel universities to add “personnel, thereby increasing the very costs these agencies seek to mitigate.” READ MORE HERE