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Peter Thiel on the "Higher Education Bubble"

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
edited June 2011 in College Admissions
Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, hedge fund manager and venture capitalist, makes a host of provocative statements in this interview with Mashable writer Sarah Lacy:

Peter Thiel: We’re in a Bubble and It’s Not the Internet. It’s Higher Education.

On the similarity to the housing bubble:
Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe. The excesses of both were always excused by a core national belief that no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated.

On elite schools:
[Thiel] thinks it’s fundamentally wrong for a society to pin people’s best hope for a better life on something that is by definition exclusionary. “If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” he says. “It’s something about the scarcity and the status. In education your value depends on other people failing. Whenever Darwinism is invoked it’s usually a justification for doing something mean. It’s a way to ignore that people are falling through the cracks, because you pretend that if they could just go to Harvard, they’d be fine. Maybe that’s not true.”

While getting ready to post this, I stumbled across this story by Tamar Lewin of the NYTimes noting that student loans have outpaced credit card debt for the first time ever:

What do you think? Are we in a bubble? What will slow or reverse annual tuition increases?
Post edited by Roger_Dooley on

Replies to: Peter Thiel on the "Higher Education Bubble"

  • LadyDianeskiLadyDianeski Registered User Posts: 2,064 Senior Member
    We absolutely are in a bubble. Andrew Ferguson discusses this at some length in Crazy U. As college costs soar, the value of the "product" sinks. How insane is that?

    I don't know what form the crash will take. I'm just glad my older son will be attending a school where he received a full ride (Alabama), so that he can graduate debt-free. I hope my younger son will have a similar opportunity. NO school is worth $50K per year and $250K in debt.
  • PRiNCESSMAHiNAPRiNCESSMAHiNA Registered User Posts: 2,120 Senior Member
    It definitely is. The price of college is absolutely ridiculous. At some point, the price has to go down or only the rich will be able to afford it. People can't keep taking out thousands in loans and I think the economic crisis has really shown us that.
  • 12rmh1812rmh18 Registered User Posts: 1,905 Senior Member
    People tend to forget that education is a product. We get drawn in by Ivy-wrapped promises & often forget that less prestigious brands may offer the same quality as the name brands. I don't agree with all of Thiel's premises, some of which I consider misguided, but I do agree that it is alarming to see students mortgage their futures with excessive debt.
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    At least for the most selective schools, despite ever-higher prices the demand is actually rising as shown by this year's record low acceptance rates. In that environment, it's hard to see a big push to cut tuition/costs.

    Now, for other schools that may have trouble filling their seats with well-qualified students in the future, it's a different story.
  • taxguytaxguy Registered User Posts: 6,625 Senior Member
    Roger, I have been on the bandwagon for years here at College Confidential preaching the evils of large student loan debts to no avail. If you do a search for substantial debt, you will see a number of thread where parents justify this as showing their love for their special snowflake. I have even preached against spending a large amount of tuition if there is a much less expensive, quality state college in their own state. Again, to no avail.

    Do I think the bubble will eventually break? Yes,but it will take a lot. As long as folks believe the hype that getting the most expensive quality education is worth it AT ANY PRICE, the bubble will continue. It does sadden me to see kids saddled with substantial undergraduate debt for many years, not to mention having this problem compounded with graduate or law school debt.

    See: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/476132-should-you-incur-substantial-debt-dream-school-even-pay-dream-tuition.html?highlight=substantial+debt

    See: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/law-school/999135-law-school-horror-stories.html?highlight=substantial+debt

    and: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/587875-im-graduating-college-i-can-t-afford-nyu.html?highlight=substantial+debt


    and here's a scary thread:http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/924689-college-debt-student-stories.html?highlight=substantial+debt
  • LadyDianeskiLadyDianeski Registered User Posts: 2,064 Senior Member
    [For Ivies] despite ever-higher prices the demand is actually rising as shown by this year's record low acceptance rates

    Ferguson addresses this, too. It's just insane. Yet people keep paying and paying.

    Of course, people also kept paying and paying for overpriced McMansions in overbuilt areas. Then came the housing crash. When the education crash comes, perhaps it will affect the Ivies, too. Who knows? We'll find out when it happens!
  • LadyDianeskiLadyDianeski Registered User Posts: 2,064 Senior Member
    Re law-school horror stories: This scares me a lot, as older son wants to become a lawyer. I'm not discouraging him, but I do tell him that he should at least consider becoming a teacher. In some states, public high school teachers make a whole lot more than many lawyers!
  • MD MomMD Mom Registered User Posts: 6,728 Senior Member
    Having lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast, the East seems much more frenzied and brand consious. We can only hope it will burst.
  • EricLGEricLG Registered User Posts: 645 Member
    A drop in demand leading to cost decreases is not the same as an economic bubble. The latter requires speculative demand fueled by layered institutional debt. There are many differences between housing and educational debt. Two of the more obvious are one, educational debt is not easily walked away from; and second, there is no secondary market for the product. An interesting question to me is whether a large grey derivatives market for education debt exists similar to the 2 ton elephant the housing market rode to its destruction.
  • LadyDianeskiLadyDianeski Registered User Posts: 2,064 Senior Member
    the East seems much more frenzied and brand consious

    The East must be overrepresented on CC, LOL!

    Diane, former Bostonian, now happy Southerner
  • LadyDianeskiLadyDianeski Registered User Posts: 2,064 Senior Member
    EricLG -- you make good points.

    Andrew Ferguson also compares soaring college costs with the rising price of health care...except that the health-care industry keeps producing a better product (advances in research, meds, medical technology) whereas colleges just keep dumbing down their "product."
  • phantasmagoricphantasmagoric Registered User Posts: 2,200 Senior Member
    Specifically on the most elite educations and the future of the bubble: I think an additional variable to look at when considering the rising costs of education is that the very very top schools have endowments that rival small countries' GDPs (or exceed them by a large margin!). Before the recession, Congressmen were starting to put more pressure on them to spend their endowments for students' benefit, but of course they shut up for a while because every endowment took a big hit. Within a few years, though, the top endowments are all going to be just plain absurd, and I'm almost certain that these schools will make it free to attend for everyone (think about it: if one does it, the others will jump on the bandwagon to remain competitive). That kind of paradoxically pops (part of) the bubble but also fuels it even more--it will inevitably increase the demand.
  • EricLGEricLG Registered User Posts: 645 Member
    Just my opinion -- education is not over-priced. Colleges turned into country club resorts are, however, expensive. An enterprising student only interested in education could hire a host of private tutors for a fraction of the cost of many colleges and prove competency through testing. The actual diploma is the least expensive part of the package.
  • sewhappysewhappy - Posts: 4,428 Senior Member
    Regarding top schools, many are giving significant FA to over half their admitted students so for those families it can be the deal of the century. Those across the income line and forced to pay full freight have to really think hard about the value of the pedigree. Son who went to Harvard debt free only because we paid full freight tells us (lovingly) that we were really dumb and that he should have taken one of the scholarships to fine but not ultra-elite schools. He concentrated in economics!
This discussion has been closed.