A New Crisis in Higher Education: Student Subject Pool Dries Up

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Freelance Writer

As the number of undergraduates plummet, scholars panic.
Scholars panic as the number of undergraduates plummets.

For decades, faculty researchers and their graduate student assistants have relied on a captive subject pool for their experiments: undergraduate courses. It had become commonplace for participants to be plucked from, say, the herd of 700 students in Intro to Sociology (with nary a concern about the lack of generalizability of the results). However, parallel to the trends in the larger climate resource crisis, this pool appears to be drying up as well.

With the increase in the number of graduate programs over the years, the perceived need to obtain an advanced degree to make anything of oneself, and the growing requirements for publications and other scholarship, the demand for hapless undergrads exploded.

The shortage had actually been predicted almost 30 years ago by Dr. Jonas Thomasburg, but his findings were ignored—just like the warnings on climate change.

“I’m not surprised,” said Thomasburg. “Everyone thought I was a crackpot.”

Although he lost an offer for a tenured position at the time, his prescience has finally been vindicated. Unfortunately—and ironically—Thomasburg has been unable to complete the requisite number of publications for tenure at Hossmore University because of the lack of a student participant pool.

The crisis has been most keenly felt in small college towns. At Findel College, located in Upper Northchester, Vermont, with a population of 30,000, researchers have already combed the high schools. Talks are underway with the local PTOs to offer tuition credits for children who commit to participating in studies when they enter the college.

When asked for his thoughts on the crisis at this point, Thomasburg shook his head. “I’m banking on a new device that’s waiting for a patent,” he said. “It’s a computerized program that translates ultrasound waves into SurveyMonkey data.”