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Bubble in Higher Education: When Will It Pop?

Bubble in Higher Education: When Will It Pop?

Bubble in Higher Education: When Will It Pop?

The Chart of the Week is a weekly feature in Visual Capitalist on Fridays.

The soaring bull market in higher education has been flying high for some time.

Many factors combined to make it the perfect storm: the demographic rise of the millennials, easy money from the Fed, the “Chivas Regal” effect in pricing strategy that many colleges and universities adopted, and the US government virtually taking over the market for student loans.

It’s a vicious circle as colleges raise prices, students take out easy loans, and the institutions raise prices again. However, it all seems to be coming to a head as several factors begin to show the chinks in the armor.

First, the US Federal Government now holds close to 45% of its total financial assets in student debt. This does not include things like land or the any of the Fed’s assets, but it is still extremely significant. Pre-crisis, it was only about one-third of those levels at about 15%.

The main reason for this increase is that the government seems to be the only organization backing student loans. Before the Financial Crisis in 2007, the government only owned $100 billion of student debt – now it owns over $800 billion.

Next, the delinquency rate has risen rapidly over the last decade. Even the St. Louis Federal Reserve branch is becoming concerned with this. In their research article from April 2015, they write: “A delinquency rate of 15 percent for all student loan borrowers implies a delinquency rate of 27.3 percent for borrowers with loans in repayment.”

The problem is that real wages aren’t increasing, and many youth are left unemployed or with low paying jobs. With an average debt load just short of $30,000, it is no wonder that graduates are still struggling.

Lastly, colleges are starting to run into problems making ends meet and often institutions are going bankrupt. Particularly at risk are for-profit colleges with low prestige, as well as liberal arts colleges. Corinthian Colleges agreed to sell or close 107 campuses, leaving 72,000 students in the dust. Sweet Briar College has been in a potential bankruptcy saga for months. Even Louisiana State University is in the middle of drawing up its bankruptcy plan.

In the end, it may be technology may be what truly blindsides schools and students. The cost of an online degree (or even self-education) is a fraction of the cost, and colleges and universities are becoming less relevant every day. Big names such as Peter Thiel and James Altucher have been outspoken skeptics of higher education for years.

This college frat party could be coming to an end soon. The question is: who will end up paying for the kegs?

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