I’ll admit it: I’m watching the Winter Olympics.
I’ve been hooked since I first watched ABC’s Jim McKay peer into the camera from Sarajevo in 1984. But judging from this year’s television ratings for the Olympics, it seems I’m part of a shrinking group of fans.
The author and fellow Olympic fan David Epstein wrote about the challenges facing the Olympics in his newsletter
last week. Epstein interviewed Steve Mesler, a three-time U.S. Olympian and board member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). They discussed what they called the “troubling trajectory of the Olympic brand” to the point that International Olympic Committee is increasingly finding it difficult to get cities to bid for the games.
Remember those days, not so long ago, when the announcement of the Olympic host city was news in and of itself. Atlanta even had a ticker-tape parade
after it was announced as host city for the 1996 summer games.
Reading about the problems facing the Olympics, and the resulting public reaction, I couldn’t help but think of higher ed: Is its brand being tarnished in the same way with concerns about cost, political bias, and whether college adequately prepares graduates?
I read Epstein’s newsletter last week as I was sitting in a coffee shop in a Cleveland suburb, where the night before I spoke at a local high school about the state of college admissions. As usual with these events, the questions at some point turned to the value of higher ed. What this group of parents asked was similar to what I have heard over and over again these past two years.
Are there other, less-expensive alternatives to education after high school? Do all employers want four-year degrees? Why are some college graduates struggling to launch? Is the college degree worth it?
This is a suburb where the median household income in 2019 was nearly $77,000. These are the types of families that for decades have written tuition checks, taken out home-equity loans, and drawn down savings to pay for college—no questions asked.
Yet, here they were asking if they should still follow that well-trodden path. In the end, many will, not necessarily because they want to, but because they don’t want to take a chance that their kids will end up on the wrong side of the economic divide.
The thing makes college unique “from nearly every other product or service on the planet is that it involves our children in a way that we consider to be absolutely essential,“ Ron Lieber, the New York Times
columnist and author of The Price You Pay for College,
told us on the Future U.
podcast that dropped last week
“Because we’re all wrapped up with the idea of upward mobility as destiny, and as entitlement, enough of us will pay whatever we need to give our kids what they want—and what we think they need—that I think it will continue to support prices like this,” Lieber said. “We’re going to see $100,000 [annual tuition] in the next 10 years and it could go higher.”
☕️ Good morning, and thanks for reading Next. In this issue we’ll explore the role colleges play in diversifying the professions and a new college major that’s showing up on some campuses: cannabis studies.