• Dr. Mary Darden

American Higher Education Needs to Take a Hard Look in the Mirror

By Dr. Mary Landon Darden, President of Higher Education Innovation, LLC



The U.S. has $124.4 billion of debt is in student defaulted student loans in the U.S., which effects 9 million borrowers and their families. https://educationdata.org/student-loan-default-rate


In 2021, “69% of college students took out student loans.” https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/


Arts & Humanities majors have the highest student loan default rates in the nation (14-27% according to the type of institution). STEM majors have the lowest default rates. Business and vocational majors default at slightly higher rates than STEM, but at lower rates than Arts & Humanities. https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2017/11/who-is-more-likely-to-default-on-student-loans/


I doubt that anyone in the academy would dismiss the value of including the Arts and Humanities in a college education, but many of these majors have diminished in both relevancy and career application. The Arts and Humanities need to revisit what they are teaching and realize that – if they are to encourage students to major in their field – they must clearly connect the dots to viable careers that allow students to both make a living and pay off student debt. Until then – until there is substantial progress observed – additional investment into the fields with increasing loan default rates would be – in my opinion – ill-advised. In fact, I think that some of these majors should go through sunset review. It is essential that the academy well prepare their students for the careers of the future. At the same time, we must realize that we now live in a global market and no institution can afford being or effectively delivering all things to all people.


I realize that there are a large number of departments at a majority of institutions in the U.S. that are fighting for their lives. I do sympathize with this struggle, but at the same time, there are reasons why this is happening. We must be more innovative and entrepreneurial about the higher education of the future. We are seeing increasing numbers of institutions close, and this is projected to continue and escalate. Many of these institutions are closing because they did not or would not make the essential changes necessary for survival. All need to thoroughly assess what they are offering and of what outcomes are resulting from those offerings, and – in some cases – realize that it is time to give up the ghost.


Darden is the Author of Entrepreneuring the Future of Higher Education: Radical Transformation in Times of Profound Change, the 2021 Book Fest Award Winner for Education/Academic books. She is also the author of Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America. Both books are published by Rowman & Littlefield and The American Council on Education.


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