The Higher Education Bubble

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There have been many discussions regarding the high cost of education, leading economists and experts to warn of an impending bursting of the higher education bubble. According to one analyst in an Economist article, “The idea is that people are spending too much on higher education, taking on too much debt, and failing to get the reward they expect.”


A recent article by E-Campus News believes that the low-cost online model of University of the People could stop the bursting of the bubble. The article notes that, “Low-cost online courses could help higher education from becoming the next economic bubble that bursts and inflicts fiscal pain on institutions, investors, and students, said educational technology experts who want more inexpensive options for those seeking a college degree.” The article goes on to explain how, “Students could earn degrees for a fraction of the current costs if more than just a handful of colleges and universities embraced free open-source educational material and created web-based classes that didn’t include the technological bells and whistles that cost so much.”


Indeed, I have for a long time advocated the more widespread adoption of open educational resources and open source technology in order to lower the costs of higher education. This is would not only open up access to more students, it would also enable more people to study without needing to rely on loans that, in many cases, cripple them financially for years afterwards. The Huffington Post’s campaign featuring students and their student debts, vividly illustrates this point.


Education is an investment, and it is impossible to quantify the price of attaining knowledge. Yet, there is no doubt that students should not spend their lives paying for their postsecondary education, regardless of whether it leads them to their desired career and financial outcomes. For those who finish their studies and find that it does not assist their transition to the labor market in the way that they had hoped, the impact can be devastating, not just financially. More must be done to lower the cost of higher education and ensure that it meets graduates’ needs. Solutions are available and should be more readily embraced to aid students and stop the bursting of the bubble.