U.S. Not the Only Place Higher Ed Faces Crisis

Article excerpt

Byline: Sriram Kh For The Register-Guard

CHENNAI, India - "Higher education: The mess," screamed the cover of India Today, one of the country's leading news magazines.

"Welcome to the club!" I thought to myself, reflecting on how the cover echoed discussions in the United States.

In America, the mess in higher education has been a major preoccupation.

In particular, the financial aspects from a student's perspective are increasingly bleak. The recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that more students are taking out loans thanks to the widening gap between the cost of attending colleges and universities, and the financial ability of students and their families to pay: "Nearly 53 percent of full-time undergraduate students borrowed money to attend college in 2007-8, compared with 49.5 percent in 2003-4."

To make things worse, fresh college graduates find that there are few jobs waiting for them, a situation that has grown even worse.

After all the time and money invested, students and their families begin to wonder if college degrees were worth it.

Having seen quite a few students in those circumstances, some, including me, wonder whether higher education is an economic bubble that is waiting to burst, similar to other bubbles that already have burst in this Great Recession.

However, the problems pale in comparison to those in India.

There simply aren't enough colleges and universities in India to serve the large population that is college-ready. Capacity is an important issue because, demographically speaking, India is a young country - almost half the country's population is younger than 25 years old.

Such a choked structure makes higher education significantly less accessible to the less privileged - and there are a lot of them.

My parents' neighbors tapped into their networks to get a seat at one of the evening colleges here in Chennai for an 18-year-old whose mother works as a maid. There would not have been a college seat for this teenager without this effort.

My parents and their neighbors have chipped in with financial assistance, which has made it possible for this young man to attend college after working for a couple of hours every morning. …