Are Universities Doomed?

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

In a famous exchange in the The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway wrote: “How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”

“Gradually” and “suddenly” applies to higher education’s implosion.

During the 1990s “culture wars” universities were warned that their chronic tuition hikes above the rate of inflation were unsustainable.

Their growing manipulation of blanket federal student loan guarantees, and part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants always was suicidal.

Left-wing indoctrination, administrative bloat, obsessions with racial preferences, arcane, jargon-filled research, and campus-wide intolerance of diverse thought short-changed students, further alienated the public—and often enraged alumni.

Over the last 30 years, enrollments in the humanities and history crashed. So did tenure-track faculty positions. Some $1.7 trillion in federally backed student loans have only greenlighted inflated tuition—and masked the contagion of political indoctrination and watered-down courses.

But “gradually” imploding has now become “suddenly.” Zoom courses, a declining pool of students, and soaring costs all prompt the public to question the college experience altogether.

Nationwide undergraduate enrollment has dropped by more than 650,000 students in a single year—or over 4 percent alone from spring 2021 to 2022, and some 14 percent in the last decade. Yet the U.S. population still increases by about 2 million people a year.

Men account for about 71 percent of the current shortfall of students. Women number almost 60 percent of all college students—an all-time high.

Monotonous professors hector students about “toxic masculinity,” as “gender” studies proliferate. If the plan was to drive males off campus, universities have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.

The number of history majors has collapsed by 50 percent in just the last 20 years. Tenured history positions have declined by one-third to half at major state universities.

In the last decade alone, English majors across the nation’s universities have fallen by a third.

At Yale University, administrative positions have soared over 150 percent in the last two decades. But the number of professors increased by just 10 percent. In a new low/high, Stanford recently enrolled 16,937 undergraduate and graduate students, but lists 15,750 administrative staff—in near one-to-one fashion.

In the past, such costly praetorian bloat would have sparked a faculty rebellion. Not now. The new six-figure salaried “diversity, equity, and inclusion” commissars are feared and exempt from criticism.

Since 2020, the old proportional-representation admissions quotas have expanded into weird “reparatory” admissions. Purported “marginalized populations” have often been admitted at levels greater than percentages in the general population.

Consequently, “problematic” standardized tests are damned as biased and antithetical to “diversity.”

To accommodate radical diversity reengineering, the only demographic deemed expendable are white males. Their plunging numbers on campus, especially from the working class, are now much less than their percentages in the general population—regardless of grades or test scores.

At Yale, the class of 2026 is listed as 50 percent white and 55 percent female. Fourteen percent were admitted as “legacies.” In sum, qualified but poor white males without privilege or connections seem mostly excluded.

Stanford’s published 2025 class profile claims a student body of “23 percent white.” Fewer than half of the class is male. Stanford mysteriously does not release the numbers of those successfully admitted without SAT tests—but recently conceded it rejects about 70 percent of those with perfect SAT scores.

In fact, universities are quietly junking test score requirements. Ironically, these time-honored standardized tests were originally designed to offer those from underprivileged backgrounds, or less competitive high schools, a meritocratic pathway into elite schools.

At Cornell, students push for pass/fail courses only and the abolition of all grades. At the New School in New York, students demand that everyone receives “A” grades. Dean’s lists and class and school rankings are equally suspect as counterrevolutionary. Even as courses are watered down, entitled students still assume that their admission must automatically guarantee graduation—or else!

Skeptical American employers, to remain globally competitive, will likely soon administer their own hiring tests. They already suspect that prestigious university degrees are hollow and certify very little.

Traditional colleges will seize the moment and expand by sticking to meritocratic criteria as proof of the competency of their prized graduates.

Private and online venues will also fill a national need to teach Western civilization and humanities courses—by non-woke faculty who do not institutionalize bias.

More students will continue to seek vocational training alternatives. Some will get their degrees online for a fraction of the cost.

Alumni will either curb giving, put further restrictions on their gifting, or disconnect.

Eventually, even elite schools will lose their current veneer of prestige. Their costly cattle brands will be synonymous with equality-of-result, overpriced indoctrination echo chambers, where therapy replaced singular rigor and their tarnished degrees become irrelevant.

How ironic that universities are rushing to erode meritocratic standards—history’s answer to the age-old, pre-civilizational bane of tribal, racial, class, elite, and insider prejudices and bias that eventually ensure poverty and ruin for all.


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18 thoughts on “Are Universities Doomed?”

  1. My daughter attended a large University of California campus and was witness to the growing Woke movement. She experienced the riots by outside agitators (Antifa) protests by BLM and other quasi-Marxist groups surrounding invited speakers who were accused of promoting “hate speech”. The gender obsession had also started as a non-political campus club she belonged to suddenly required her to “announce her pronouns” at meetings.

    With the data given, there is no mention of foreign students, which make up a large percentage of the student population but may not be counted in the same way. They pay exorbitant tuition and I’m sure they are needed to underwrite the bloated salaries and costs of administration. Just a casual walk around campus would reveal the dominance of foreign nationals, (before Covid) mostly Chinese/Asian. My daughter’s major was biotech and the huge lecture halls were dominated by Chinese students. One professor was Chinese, as was the teaching assistant and both had very poor English. My daughter felt lost and frustrated and eventually changed her major. This is the “dirty little secret” of all colleges snd universities. Admission of foreign students who pay much higher tuition make up a significant portion of the student population but may go uncounted. Is it any wonder that Stanford has now deemed the word “American” to be undesirable and problematic?

    1. You bring up an interesting and good point: the number of students from China in American U graduate schools. I personally knew several with PhDs in mathematics. China has a rigorous competitive system for entry to their own colleges as well as to become exchange students here. The fellows i knew had all won their home province’s math competitions – they were the best math minds in their home states. Those PhDs in other fields, however, were understandable orally, no problem, but, their written English was closer to elementary level than college, or worse, graduate school level. I often wondered how they managed to write advanced papers on whatever topic – but now perhaps we can guess: universities prioritize(d) foreign tuition over scholarship rigor.

      A couple years ago I while doing some private, personal research, I needed to get a copy of a PhD thesis by a Chinese national from a university in the Philippines. Btw, I was unsuccessful. None of them would respond to my queries and offers. There are some 200+ universities there. A friend, whose sister is an attorney and still lives there, told me that there are more foreign students from China studying in the Philippines than native students in their own universities.

      As mentioned, students here from China number approximately 300k. One suspects it’s the same in England and other countries. It leads one to ask: what is Mr. Xi doing?

    2. I believe that the intellectually-lazy and cowardly administrators in so-called elite (really elitist) universities count on the increasing number of full tuition-paying students from countries with repressive governments to foot the bill and keep the bureaucratically-bloated universities afloat.

      Perhaps these students will return to their countries with repressive governments and reform those countries…but I think that it is more likely that they will “colonize” the US using “elite” universities as the beach head.

  2. The consistent downward slide of America is evident in every institution in our country.
    Schools, churches, marriage, employment and government.
    Almost every news source is embarrassing with the constant moronic bilge they attempt to sell traditional Americans including their drug commercials. How can anyone watch a drug commercial with a straight face? Couple dancing and laughing as they list 100 side effects of the drug that was Approved by the FDA which may as well consist of 8th grade graduates?
    Then the Biden admin tells us the border is closed or it’s republicans fault they are all coming here because they keep complaining the border is NOT closed? Drag Queens teaching kindergarten students and men in woman’s sports.
    I’m 63 and have been a construction superintendent traveling nationally for 37 yrs and I have never had less faith in this country than I have today. I’m disgusted in every institution in America and cannot help but be sniffish in my current work environment full of illegals.
    Stick a Fork in it Victor and stay close to the farm…..
    America as we ever knew it is over……
    And it’s NOT coming back.
    Not sure about you but I’m glad I’m on my way out instead of in!
    Merry Christmas to you and yours my friend!

    1. As much as I’d like to debate what you’ve written…I won’t…b/c it’s so well reasoned & true. I’m now focused on trying to out run this new nation, instead of correct it…

    2. Thankfully, our generation will not see what has been wrought. Generations of literally dumb Americans who don’t want to work and believe whatever is told to them by the media. We are ripe for collapse from within and perhaps those foreigners will be the ones to recreate America. But it will be a distorted barbarian image of what we were; not unlike the Roman Empire as it became less Roman and more multi racial and multi cultural. Good or bad? We won’t see but I do wonder….

    3. Amen to what you say, brother—all except for the part that “America…it’s Not coming back.” I’ll never count America out. How can I when I think of Washington at Valley Forge with his soldiers’ feet bleeding and wrapped in rags while standing in the snow? What were the odds that he would eventually be successful in his fight for freedom?
      We just need an epiphany, and I pray that it will come sooner, than later. Trump with all his warts was still a very good start.

      1. Here is the problem Thomas, there are really only 2 choices in a republic to save America. The First is to vote in leaders that actually care about America and American citizens. The powerful elites have enough leverage in a few swing states using wicked means in each election to destroy our right to free and fair elections. They use it and spit in our face with candidates no one would vote for yet they win anyway. That’s how you know they so despise competition and show us they will all ways beat the competition regardless. So voting will not return america back to her former glory. So if we want to turn back to our former glory, we must remove these folks from power , but who are they. Internationals, Soros type individuals and their friends. WEF proponents, NWO proponents, all these elite anti American globalist are taking America down 1 election at a time. So in order to remove them, they will not go silently, America must have the intestinal fortitude and make those that have all the power realize they still have a problem. They have caused this problem we are in, and brought on themselves the only remedy to destroy there tyranny. And that’s to stand up and fight em but that cannot be done at the voting booth as they have destroyed those means. You only have 1 choice left, its that simple regarding choices. Its not that simple to move the lazy and gutless to rise up against these powers. Its either vote or shoot at some point, the first option has been removed.

    4. William, your comments reflect my very thoughts – sadly. Please stay positive. A woke implosion is coming. We may not see an American turnaround in our lifetime(s) .. but for the sake of our children and grandchildren, let’s hope & pray that it does happen.

  3. One might also wonder what will happen when China decides it has nothing more to gain by sending (and paying the tuition) for many of its top shelf students to these less scholarly institutions. Most institutions there remain rigorous and dedicated to serious scholarship. Seemingly, the loss of that revenue state side would have a very heavy impact on universities here.
    290,086 each x $45k/year = a lot. Would that loss impact u education?

    1. I wonder why they would send their children here to be corrupted, introduced to hedonistic lifestyles, drugs, wokeism— Is that what China wants to get from us because that is what we are selling…. the names Yale, Harvard, etc. are resting on their past laurels. A conversation with any American college student will clue you in to the caliber of their minds and the results of their education….it ain’t pretty!!

  4. Taking students to change demographics is one thing. Going to Pass/Fail seems to me a path to mediocrity and universities should run from the theory. As a business exec, I have questioned the value of Ivy League degrees. Legacy trust fund kids don’t work as hard and have far fewer real life skills to maneuver through deals. I seem your point but regret it will take years for the group think to change. Meritocracy works. Hire the best and brightest who can think and produce.

  5. Stop all the government money going to the universities. Stop student loan guarantees. This should start them down the road of competition for the best students seeking the best education.

  6. William Thompson

    A former boss had bootstrapped his way from a framer of homes to the CEO of several companies. He had a motto that was posted above his door for all to see. It read: “Winners get money, losers don’t”. He also was well known for giving his employees three minutes of his time to make their cases. After three minutes he said – “yes”, “no”, or “go back and think about it some more”. Snowflakes and hot house flowers did not prosper in his firm. It was great.

    1. That’s a good overview , However as a strong conservative i disagree. My father all ways told me that you would be rewarded by hard work. Lets get serious here. Most folks with a lot of money work very little and when the do work it is trying to find tax laws they can beat with other tax laws. Those that work hard do not always win, they live and die working hard. Reality is not everyone can be winners when it comes to financial issues. Today we have taken away the idea that hard work will be rewarded. Hard work does not lead to wealth all the time, and if everyone won there would be no overlords to keep those hard workers suppressed . Think about it fairly coal miners work hard, construction workers work hard, we import cheap labor and we export to cheap labor. But i do agree Americans are relatively lazy because they know hard work in general is no means to financial success. Just a means for sustainability. I know there will be contrary views, just know i am a strong conservative that believes the neo conservative have run the working class of America into the ground. No care for national stability, only elite overlords.

  7. I’ve seen this (mostly non-STEM) trend at Ohio State as well. What keeps me going is the roughly 40 percent of undergraduates who actually want to learn something and with whom I connect.

  8. Enlightening column. As a recent graduate of a history degree program, I sense the “institutionalized bias” you mention here. It’s encouraging to learn that there are some universities and private/online venues that are guarding against this.

    However, much of this institutionalized leftist bias is also found in the academic literature, especially more recent journal/book publications of the past 20-30 years. So it’s hard to avoid completely. I think the most important quality is for students to think critically and not accept all information uncritically. I believe that getting different viewpoints on contentious subjects within the academic literature is a must for preventing indoctrination.

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