Why I Don't Care about the Varsity Blues Scandal

I actually only marginally care that celebrities and wealthy families engaged in fraud to get their students into a handful of well-known colleges and universities. I care that fraudsters exist, certainly, but when I consider the entirety of the mess that is higher ed, I conclude this scandal received way too much front-page press when it should have been relegated to the ‘crime beat’ section. A long-simmering problem that truly deserves more space, above-the-fold, concerns the economics of higher ed. How many colleges can afford to exist in this 21st century? Some have suggested that half of all colleges will be gone within the next few decades. Why? Expenses outpace revenue; a declining student population exists especially in the Midwest and Northeast; online and hybrid learning is disruptive. These factors have already led and will continue to lead to college mergers/consolidations/downsizing/bankruptcies.

Given the precarious state of rural America, I wish Michael Bloomberg had spread out his $1.8 billion higher ed donation to more than just his alma mater (Johns Hopkins). How cool would it have been if he had, instead, sent a $100 million cash infusion to 20 regionally-important but impoverished community colleges or small schools across the country. Small colleges are often the life blood of rural areas across our country. What will happen to the surrounding areas when these institutions disappear? Shouldn’t we care about that?

A few statistics that further inform my world view on higher ed. Around 3.5 million students graduate from high school annually and 40% of those students don’t continue on to higher education. Of the almost 17 million undergraduate students in the US, 6 million are at 2-yr colleges, 7 million attend college part-time (usually b/c they have to work) and…wait for it…only 63,072 TOTAL are enrolled at the eight Ivies. So, yes, I think less emphasis on 63,000 students and more on issues of access, jobs and the debt load of the other 17 million college students is desperately needed. That’s the scandal we should all care about.

Allison Henderson

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