Introduction to Modern College
With the “college experience” being the dominant method of professional instruction for the last 3 or 4 generations in America—with almost no challengers at all for decades—like any unrivaled monopoly system, cost and quality can tend to shift and drift. That’s certainly the case in higher education.
Key to understanding the big picture on education is a realization: very little in the modern college system is “consumer-driven.” Instead, all the administrative policies, “perish or publish” mandates, hustle for research grants and so many other associated distractions result from chasing after outside subsidies—which always have strings attached.
Important, too, is the steadfast reliance on a university business model of the pre-Printing Press era, which still puts a heavy emphasis on the least effective teaching methods (one-way lectures and books) and offers little real-world application. With a long history of being fond of special privileges and a track record of being slow to adapt, the university model not only resists advances in teaching methods (such as working mentors and online instructors) but also pays short shrift to important leadership and social skills that you just can’t get from a book or from sitting in a passive classroom. That’s quite a few "structural flaws" to be aware of.
To assess the situation, let’s start with some key data and build up from there. Here are some important educational figures based on the most current available information:
Total college undergraduate enrollment: 16.8 million students (Fall 2017)
Total annual revenue for colleges: $649 billion/year (Fall 2016 — Spring 2017)
Percentage of college revenue from outside sources: over 80% including student grants and loans, and direct government subsidies to schools
Total # of colleges in the U.S.: 4,360 (Fall 2016)
Total # of colleges in the U.S. that decline federal funding: less than 10, as of July 2016 
Total student debt from colleges: $1.6 trillion; $29,800 avg. per student (2018 graduates)
Total teaching staff in higher education: 1.5 million full- and part-time faculty (2016)
 As of July 2016, the list of colleges that decline federal funding are: 5 small schools (Pensacola Christian in Florida; Grove City in Pennsylvania; Hillsdale in Michigan; Christendom and Patrick Henry colleges in Virginia) and 3 other tiny colleges with less than 200 students each. The provided link to The Atlantic article above is informational, but hostile to all of them.
“Higher education” is a term used for colleges and universities. All three terms are used interchangeably throughout this website.
Total subsidies from combined federal, state and local government on all education (K through college) for FY2019 will be over $1.1 trillion. Since college costs are difficult to break out—and much of high school is simply preparing students for college—that’s a good number to help understand the larger story. A trillion bucks a year of “easy money” influences a lot of decisions and leaves a big impact.
As many are aware, the costs of subsidized education as well as subsidized medicine have been skyrocketing for decades. Most people will notice the commonality here, but many academics and some corporate administrators insist otherwise and keep asking for more of the same. But that approach is not working. What’s needed is a better, more cost-effective educational business model.
With the economic foundation of colleges and universities showing significant cracks, let’s look at the much-touted “value” of the ubiquitous 4-year “degree.” The next two sections look beyond that mysterious piece of paper to offer some useful History and specifics on what the “College Experience” really entails.
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