Ivy League Colleges Crumbling

David Pearce Snyder, a futurist, says that Ivy League colleges may be a thing of the past. Market forces are so strong that most of them will not survive.


Last week I attended a talk from David Pearce Snyder. Snyder is a data-based forecaster, or what some people call a futurist. He has consulted for many Fortune 500 companies and the government. This is part of a lecture series put on by the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy and I got to attend because Mentor Graphics is a sponsor of these talks and invited me.

Snyder talked about the types of things they can predict and those they cannot. He said that demographics can be predicted fairly accurately to about 10 years, other things slightly less, and surprisingly that technology can be predicted to around 7 to 8 years out. Things like digital wallets and the Internet of Things were on his list of certainties. The primary focus of the talk was on education needs and going into the talk I thought I already knew the answer, but I was wrong.

I expected to hear that we are not providing enough people with a college education, but we are in fact providing too many – significantly more than we have jobs for. Having a degree does not increase your chances of getting a job, claims Snyder. In fact, we are producing twice as many baccalaureates as are needed. The analysis did not go into the numbers employed for each type of degree being issued, because I doubt we have an excess of engineers.

He described what we are going through as a revolution because the ramifications of this change are so large and the changes structural. While we are creating high-paying technology jobs, the technology created is eliminating manufacturing and other jobs at an even faster rate. He says that we are nearing the point at which technology will start to improve the situation, but there will be a structural divide in the jobs market.

The crux of the talk appeared to be that the education system at all levels is not producing the type of skills that people want. No kid left behind made things worse by concentrating on basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, which he showed are the least valued abilities to get a job. What people want are the higher cognitive skills and the education system supposedly does little to develop these.

At the same time, Snyder says that the places of higher learning are in a dire situation. Enrollment is falling and this is not going to change. Many Americans need to get retrained, but they are not providing the right kinds of courses and this retraining requires on-line or remote education and not a campus-based experience. He talked about how a few of them are waking up to this reality and are scrambling to create new types of learning and at radically different price points to the existing plans. One example of this are the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) now being offered by Harvard, Princeton and MIT and in some cases are being provided at 1/10 of the cost of the campus enrollment fees.

Technology and mechanization are eliminating many of the jobs that used to be done manually. These jobs will not come back. You cannot turn back time. The truth of the matter is that the “class” divide will probably become an intelligence divide. Those who have the skills and the education to fill the high paying jobs will do well. Those who have less ability, or do not develop these abilities, are almost guaranteed to fail and lead a life of poverty.

After the talk, a number of Oregon policy makers grilled Snyder about education programs, the value of no kid left behind, and the newer but not much talked about common core policy. It is clear there is a lot at stake, and there are no absolute answers. While Snyder may know the future will be different from today, he does not provide the answers as to how we will get there. Snyder says students must learn high-level cognitive skills if they want to succeed. Surprisingly, he mentioned several times that computer games are a great way to provide some of these skills, just so long as the kids don’t realize that the game is in fact educational.

We have to hope that America, or indeed any other nation, can produce enough successful people to pay for those who will not be able to support themselves in a deeply divided intelligence class structure.

  • Hank Walker

    “The truth of the matter is that the “class” divide will probably become an intelligence divide.”

    Counterexample: . Sadly, I expect this will still be true.

    History has shown that self-discipline is often more important than intelligence, even in “knowledge worker” jobs.