Letter from The Editor: The Higher Ed bubble is at its bursting point

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

Hello dear reader, it’s me. 


Your faithful editor-in-chief of The Globe.


Last week, with the help of fellow student journalist, Emma Christley, along with my fabulous team of editorial staff, I brought to you the detailed news about the layoffs of 17 full-time faculty members. 


Covering this story was extremely difficult for me. It caused a lot of anxiety. I fall into the ironic stereotype of being an introverted journalist, so having many eyes on my work, especially when it was relaying unfortunate news, was hard. It was overwhelming. 


Since last week, the faculty layoffs have seldom left my mind. Hearing first-hand from affected faculty members was, in a word, emotional. As a journalist, I often have to remove myself from feeling emotions during my reporting, and this time around, it wasn’t easy. But it left a major impact.


The state of higher education is in peril. A good metaphor for higher ed would be that it’s like a snake eating its own tail. For decades, as the price of higher education rose to the astronomical numbers we see now, where higher ed became a luxury that was only truly affordable by the elites, we did not notice that it was consuming itself. But now, after the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a situation that we can no longer ignore.


No more can we shrug our shoulders as we condemn ourselves to a lifetime of paying off student debt. We tell ourselves that it will all be worth it because maybe, just maybe, we will use our degrees to land a cushy 9-5 office job where we’ll spend the next 45 years working for some money-hungry CEO. We cannot do this because the certainty of being able to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars that we do not have for a certain set of qualifications that some nameless figure somewhere along the way said we must have, no longer exists. The certainty of these institutions’ futures no longer exists.


And all it took was a global pandemic. All it took was one freshman class with lower enrollment than usual. All it took was the cost of cleaning supplies (that probably should have been used in the first place) and social distancing measures. 


At first, I considered this to be Point Park’s weakness. How could our institution be so fragile that one year of low enrollment would send our operating budget into the red and our administration into a whirlwind trying to cut costs? How could that be? Did we not have measures in place to account for such occurrences? How could we be so reliant on that one number, that one statistic, not fluctuating downward? It seemed laughable that such a steadfast institution, a pillar of the Pittsburgh community, could be so unpredictable in its viability. But after more pondering, after remembering being told by administrators that Harvard (Harvard! Of all places!) was going through a similar plight, I realized that Point Park’s problems were normal. And they were indicative of major nationwide problems to come.


The higher education bubble is primed for bursting. The cutthroat ecosystem of schools with annually increasing high sticker prices that pump out corporate robots was an environment that was doomed to fail. The business model of relying on freshman class after freshman class of barely 18-year-olds to commit to paying forty grand per year for four years was not sustainable. Who knew?! And again, all it took to pull back the curtain and reveal this ugly underbelly was a global pandemic.


The fact of the matter is that young hopefuls are going to hit their limit when it comes to how much they’re willing to pay and how much the federal government is willing to dish out. Yet, with fewer qualified and revered faculty, along with even higher tuition costs (not to mention a year of charging students the same amount of money for an online education they did not desire), the breaking point of a college education just not being worth it anymore is swiftly approaching. If universities are looking to bounce back from their plague of lowered enrollment, they will not find success in higher costs and fewer faculty. There is no way for the academic quality to remain anywhere near equal. The math just doesn’t add up. 


So to my fellow college students, I urge you to think about the narratives you are hearing. Are mass faculty layoffs the fault of COVID-19, that dastardly virus? Or are they the fault of the inherent greed present in higher education, an economy of its own that is about to swallow itself whole without the borrowed money it siphons from millions of young students per year? 


Consider the future of higher ed as you know it. And think within the short term. I predict that soon, the snake will cease to exist, and a whole new animal will take its place.