Future of Learning Top Reads for Week of June 10 2019

Tweet #1 from Jeff Selingo

“This chart goes back only 12 years. Like clockwork, every year discount rate ticks up a point or two. Revenue stays flat or declines. Other expenses rise. #highered has been saying this is not sustainable for almost as long as I've been covering sector. But when does it change?”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

Since 2013, the average net tuition per freshman (adjusted for 2018 dollars) is down 6.2%. As colleges have increased prices relentlessly, they are actually bringing in less and less net revenue.

Think about that: higher and higher prices, yet lower and lower revenue per customer.

Things on a rising slope look sustainaible until suddenly there is a cliff and people start falling over the edge. As Seth Godin has said, “Incrementalism ceases to be a good strategy when there's a cliff on the route.”

Note: independent schools are facing the same exact issue.

Tweet #2 from Jeff Selingo

“Deficit spending more common in #highered than we might think--at school level & college-wide. Just yesterday [May 8 2019] Moody's downgraded Wheaton College (MA) saying college was able to grow enrollment, but increased discounting has led to operating deficits.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

See the previous tweet.

…and then there is the demand side of the equation…


“Parents Gone Wild: High Drama Inside D.C.’s Most Elite Private School,” by Adam Harris, in The Atlantic

“In the now notorious Varsity Blues scandal, the desire from wealthy parents to get their children into such elite institutions as Yale and the University of Southern California led them to lie on applications and obtain fake SAT scores. At Sidwell Friends, one of America’s most famous Quaker schools, the desire manifested itself in bad behaviors—including parents spreading rumors about other students, ostensibly so that their children could get a leg up, the letter said.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

When a Quaker institution like Sidwell Friends feels the need to enroll non-mission appropriate families, you know something about the entire system is badly out of whack.

As the supply of seats at “elite” colleges has remained constant, more and more parents are clamoring to “win” the zero sum game.


  • “Elite” is much more a function of brand association than objective quality.

  • There is no real “winning” in a zero sum game, especially when most students can be well served by a wide variety of colleges.

…and for another dispatch from the demand side of the equation…


“The Anti-College Is on the Rise,” by Molly Worthen, in the New York Times

“ ‘I do wonder whether or not it’s mission-critical for an educational institution to have a fully articulated metaphysics and ethics and politics that underpin it — or to what extent that is inhibitive to the broader project of liberal education,’ Ms. Marcus told me. ‘There is a deep-seated human desire to feel you’re a part of something bigger than yourself, and one of the problems of liberal modernity is that it doesn’t give you a whole lot beyond the self to subsume yourself in. That gives secular institutions like ours a little bit of a question mark about what that grounding vision is going to be.’ […]

“Perhaps the proliferation of programs like these will push mainstream universities to recover the moral component of their mission, and to recognize that what students need — far more than gourmet dining hall food or fancier classroom technology — is a period of discipleship, a time of discernment. They crave a means to figure out how to do what we all desperately want: to submit to a community and an ideal larger than ourselves, without losing ourselves entirely.”

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

In contrast to the status- and privilege-mongering captured in the previous story, a small but growing counter movement is providing higher education experiences grounded in the discernment of individual and collective meaning and purpose.

They may express it in different ways, but most schools actually share a common mission: to enable the flourishing of the individual so that she can contribute to the common good. Schools will need to to walk that talk if they want to compete on anything other than “commodities” (courses, amenities, etc.)


Question of the week:

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Christian Talbot