Bet 676

Duration 27 years (02014-02040)

“By 2040, the percentage of U.S. citizens of traditional college age who are attending postsecondary educational institutions in the United States will drop at least 50% from the level reported for the 2011/2012 academic year.” Detailed Terms »

Brant von Goble

John C Leven


will go to United States Go Foundation if von Goble wins,
or Against Malaria Foundation if Leven wins.

Von Goble's Argument

During the 2011/2012 academic year, 39.98% of American citizens ranging from at least 18 years of age to less than 25 years of age attended U.S.-based postsecondary educational institutions that awarded associate degrees or better, which was an increase from the college-attendance rate for this age bracket in 2000/2001. While a simple predictive model would suggest that college attendance rates for this demographic will continue to climb, such would fail to take into account the complex financial, educational, and cultural shifts that the United States is undergoing and is likely to continue to undergo for several decades.

Rising College Costs

From the 1981-1982 academic year to the 2011-2012 academic year, the cost (in constant 2011-2012 dollars) of attending a public four-year college or university went from 6,942 USD to 16,789 USD. Although community college prices are lower, they have also increased during this time. There is no good evidence that this trend will discontinue, and prices may rise for many more years. This trend is at least partially responsible for increasing rates of default on student loans in the United States, and it may make college appear to be a less attractive option to the young adults of 2040 than it did to previous generations.

Diminishing Differences in Global Labor Costs

On the other hand, the price of labor in Southeast Asia, particularly in major manufacturing regions, such as Guangdong, China, continues to climb. While labor compensation rates in those areas are still lower than those within the United States, the cost advantage of overseas production has gradually diminished and should continue to do so. Additionally, labor productivity within the United States has increased as wages have (when adjusted for inflation) dropped considerably from their 1972 peak. These factors stand to reduce the relative attractiveness of foreign labor when compared to U.S. labor, and their effects are likely to be compounded by several American demographic and cultural trends.

Changing Expectations for Material Gain in America

The substantial post-1960s globalization of financial, industrial, and labor markets has caused the American way of life to more closely align with that of the global norm, and there is no compelling evidence to suggest that this trend will not continue. The current model of community development within the U.S.—that of sprawling suburbs with no real center—places great financial, energy, and time burdens upon a considerable number of Americans. And a growing percentage of the population will come to see previous generations’ expectations of home and automobile ownership as being out of reach until late middle age.
Living in American urban areas is often expensive, sometimes even more so than living in suburban regions and commuting to one’s place of business (although this is highly dependent upon vehicle, insurance, and fuel costs), and as many American families’ savings are diminished through increased living costs and poor rates of return on investments and savings, they will become less inclined to help their children purchase automobiles—a trend that will be further compounded by increasing vehicle and vehicular insurance prices and by continued increases in medical and medical insurance expenses that will consume ever-expanding portions of the diminishing financial pie of an aging population. This will make commuting from areas not served by public transportation a challenge for many people.
The financial unfeasibility of living and working in urban areas or commuting from suburban areas to work will make employer-provided housing an increasingly attractive option for young people. This market innovation may take any number of forms, including subsidized company housing and food allowances or company dormitories and canteens (as are oftentimes offered by companies in the Pearl River Delta region). If managed efficiently, employers may be able to limit compensation to very reasonable levels by providing employees with room and board that they (the employees) will consider vastly preferable to transient living and restricted caloric intakes. Additionally, the liability that companies face when providing these services will be greatly diminished by improvements in surveillance technology (which will reduce the likelihood of false claims and actual instances of employee/employee or employee/manager misbehavior) and a growing willingness of workers to submit to binding arbitration for resolution of disputes over injury, negligence, inadequate accommodations, and deception.
Stated another way, while access to information, information technology, and entertainment will improve, Americans will otherwise be willing to work more to receive less. This will make manufacturing in the United States a more attractive option to cost-conscious industries and will result in the growth of industrial labor options for young Americans, who will find themselves in greater demand than have young people in any previous time in U.S. history.

An Aging Population and the Need for Strong Backs

One of the most noteworthy factors that will result in a reevaluation of the importance of physical labor will be the aging of the U.S. population. While the average person may be able to engage in office work until he or she is quite old, physical labor can prove difficult for those in their middle years. Thus, an aging population will translate to a smaller percentage of the population able to participate in the manufacturing or construction industries. Those of traditional college age will find that they will have more opportunities to support themselves through physical labor than they do today. This is not to suggest that many of these people will never attend college, but that many of them may well delay this activity until they have been able to save enough money to pay for the experience without accumulating tremendous debt. Building such savings will almost certainly require more than a decade of labor and saving (optimistically assuming that one is spending very little, living in an employer-subsidized dormitory, and subsisting on company rations), thus putting these people out of the traditional college- attendance age range by the time they have the money to begin their studies.

Changing Educational Demands and the Limits of Student Pursuits

While formal education is likely to play an important role in American productivity and commerce for many more years, some of the most popular academic majors (such as business administration, psychology, education, and communications) will not attract as many students in 2040 as they do at present due to the national economy becoming more production-oriented and due to continued increases in U.S. educational prices. The non-caregiving service sector of the U.S. economy, in which many graduates of humanities and social science programs are employed, will stand to shrink; the benefits offered to those within this sector will be reduced; and obtaining employment therein may require credentials that the majority of Americans find prohibitively expensive.
There will be a very real demand for individuals with certain types of academic training, particularly in the fields of engineering, science, and design; however, the pursuit of competence in these fields is unreasonably demanding for many people. Given that the average U.S. ACT composite score in 2013 was less than 21, one may conclude that many students simply do not have the capacity to pursue degrees in the most challenging fields.


This confluence of factors—increasing college costs, a shift towards a production (rather than post- industrial) economy, more modest expectations for living standards and prosperity, an aging population, and a natural limit to the number of students who can pursue the most demanding fields—will lead to a considerable drop in the percentage of the traditional college-age population (meaning those who are at least 18 years of age but less than 25 years of age) that attends postsecondary educational institutions in the United States, and by the 2040/2041 academic year, no more than 19.99 % of Americans within this age group will be attending a regionally or nationally accredited U.S.-based community college, college, or university that offers academic degrees for which one must complete at least two years of college-level coursework (resulting in an associate degrees or better).

A Note Regarding College Attendance Rates and the Types of Schools Recognized for the Purposes of this Prediction

All school attendance information in this prediction was obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Digest of Education Statistics, and the NCES shall be the preferred information source for determining the validity of this prediction for the 2040/2041 academic year. In the case that the NCES is no longer in operation as of the 2040/2041 academic year, its successor agency (if one exists) shall be used as the preferred information source. If no U.S. government agency publishes the relevant information as of the deadline for determining the outcome of this prediction, a different reputable source of statistics shall be determined by a qualified adjudicator. For the purposes of this prediction, a U.S.-based regionally or national accredited postsecondary educational institution shall meet the following criteria:

1. It shall be accredited by a regional or national accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
2. It shall be incorporated or chartered either by or within a U.S. state, district, or territory.
3. The principal campus (or business office if the institution does not have a physical campus) shall be located within a U.S. state, district, or territory.
4. It shall award at least one academic degree for which one must complete no less than two years of college-level coursework.

Leven's Argument

Despite rising costs, the ROI for the AVERAGE college graduate is such that it is still a good bet for most. Also, their is a social stigma about not going to college that I think will continue for a while.

Detailed Terms

Determination of the outcomes of this bet shall be based on data extracted from three sources.

1. The Digest of Education Statistics by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which can be found here:

The relevant 2011 information was obtained from this table:

This shall be used to determine college attendance rates for 18-24 age bracket.

2. The United States Census Bureau Current Population Survey, which can be found here:

This shall be used to determine the number of Americans in the appropriate age bracket.

For the purposes of this bet, only citizens (native-born and naturalized) shall be counted, and only those of at least 18 years of age and of no more than 24 years of age.

3. The Institute of International Education (IIE) Open Doors survey, for which the 2011/2012 data can be found here:

This shall be used to determine the number of foreign students in American postsecondary educational institutions.

For the purposes of this bet, 2011/2012-school year data was used to establish 2011 foreign-student attendance rates at the Associate’s and Bachelor’s level.

Only undergraduate students shall be included in the final determination and the 2011 data. Graduate students (and above) will not be included in the final determination, as these would not be considered traditional college students for the purposes of this bet.

The 2040 data shall be extracted from the 2040/2041 school year data when it is released.

Methods of Calculation:

Variable “A”
Gross number of students in 18-24 age bracket attending college (NCES Digest of Education Statistics) - Number of foreign students enrolled at the Associate’s and Bachelor’s level (IIE Open Doors) = Net, U.S. students in the traditional age/undergraduate bracket

Variable “B”
Number of U.S. citizens in the 18-24 (less than 25) age bracket (U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey)

Percentage in Attendance:

A/B = Attendance percentage (Variable “C”)

Conditions for the Win:

If C ≤ 19.99, Brant wins.

If C > 19.99, John wins.

Methods of Calculation for 2011:

11,242,482 (NCES Digest of Education Statistics) - 309,342 (IIE Open Doors) = 10,933,140

Percentage in Attendance:

27,346,000 (U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey 2011 data)/10,933,140 (U.S. students) = 39.98% attendance rate

In the event that any of these sources are no longer available, the bettors shall find mutually agreed-upon data sources, with preference given to government-backed institutions.