Forbes column ponders how colleges would fare if they were stocks

If American colleges and universities had to operate on the stock market, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard wouldn’t invest his money in high-dollar liberal arts schools. He explains why in his latest magazine column.

Make no mistake: The expensive liberal arts colleges in America are going down–fast and hard. Schools like Haverford and Smith are extremely vulnerable. The return on a four-year $250,000 investment in such colleges will be poor in future years. Their brands have become laughingstocks. Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and Princeton are protected because they are true universities. Their engineering departments and graduate schools for medicine and business are (for the most part) isolated from the ideological nonsense found in liberal arts schools. Caltech and MIT are pure plays in science and engineering and thus are protected.

If colleges were a stock market, I’d short the heck out of Haverford, Brandeis, Smith and their ilk. I’d want to own those American universities in the Global Top Ten. I’d also buy America’s great public universities known for their strength in science and engineering: Michigan, Texas, UCLA and the like. And I’d be biased toward universities with a land-grant history. These often have the word “State” before “University.” Most were started in the latter half of the 19th century to provide educations in agricultural and other practical sciences. I’d buy Iowa State for ag science, Oklahoma State for oil and gas engineering, and Montana State for its tech hub in Bozeman.

I’d also buy community colleges. They’re the great untapped resource in the U.S. today. There are two kinds of community colleges: One is a low-cost feeder system to four-year universities; the other is a high-tech trade school. Both kinds are wonderful American assets.

Lastly, I’d buy some for-profit online universities.

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