In the recent book by Clay Christensen and Henry Eyring, The Innovative University, the authors contend that many colleges and universities will be left in the dust unless they figure out how to adapt, much as companies have crumbled when innovative technologies hit their markets and they couldn't rapidly adjust to it.
John Moore, who served as president of Grove City College, discusses the recent book by Professor Robert Martin, The College Cost Disease. He thinks that Martin’s analysis is mostly correct, but argues that it is possible for colleges to overcome the disease or never contract it in the first place. Smaller institutions with a clear educational mission and careful oversight from trustees can maintain high academic standards while keeping costs down.
In today's Pope Center piece, Joe Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, writes about his unusual experience with the University of Chicago. Lots of courses and lots of learning, but no degree. Fortunately, he got into a field where the lack of college credential did not bar him from working with the skills and knowledge he had -- the think tank world.
So goes one of the standard explanations for the continual rise in the cost of going to college. In this Cato@Liberty post, Neal McCluskey tears it apart. Until recently, college and university leaders found it fairly easy to get money from politicians and donors and they delighted in spending it. As Thomas Sowell has observed, when college leaders spend more money, they claim that their costs have increased, thus justifying still more appropriations and requiring yet more giving and higher tuition. With state budgets deep in the red, family portfolios down, and increased skepticism that college is such a good "investment" for everyone, the easy livin' is over.
Pajamas Media have published a series of posts on higher education in Texas, authored by “Publius Audax”, a pseudonym for a professor at an undisclosed state university. Readers of this blog might be interested in what Publius has to say. In “Needed Reforms for Public Higher Education in Texas (and Elsewhere)”, Publius advocates what he calls the “Entrepreneurial Professor” model.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I take a critical look at a proposal made in the Nov. 23 Wall Street Journal by University of Oregon president Richard Lariviere. He repeats the usual lines about how the US is becoming less well educated since fewer young people are obtaining college degrees, rapidly rising tuition, and falling state appropriations to conjure up a scenario meant to alarm Oregonians. He wants them to "save" the University of Oregon through a plan whereby the legislature would borrow half of the endowment he thinks is needed to "stabilize" funding. My contention is that this is a bad deal for taxpayers. It only saves U of O officials from having to compete for tax dollars, along with many other possible uses of money. Everyone would like to have guaranteed revenues and escape the need to persuade people to buy or donate. We get better results, however --more efficient use of resources--when decision makers have to worry that if they aren't doing a good job, people will say "no."
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I review Robert Sternberg's recent book College Admissions for the 21st Century. Sternberg's contention is that colleges can admit a better student body -- more students with leadership potential, creativity, and wisdom -- if they would plumb students for their hidden talents. I doubt that it's really possible to engage in anything more than guesswork in that regard from reading essays by college applicants. Even if it's possible to accurately identify those with stellar hidden talents, all that accomplishes is a slight redistribution of where kids go to college. It's not worth the considerable cost. Sternberg argues that revising college admissions as he suggests will help bring about greater "equity" and "social justice" in the world. Color me skeptical about that, too.
Here's the next installment (chapters 6-12) from our CCAP friends in their report, “25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College.” We at NAS especially appreciate #6. And we recently published a major article on #10 in Academic Questions. 6. Reduce Administrative Staff 7. Cut Unnecessary Programs 8. End the “Athletics Arms Race” 9. Overhaul the FAFSA 10. Eliminate Excessive Academic Research 11. Streamline Redundant Programs at the State Level 12. Promote Collaborative Purchasing
Our friends at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) have released the first in a 5-part, book-length report called "25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College." NAS applauds this initiative and looks forward to reading the report in its entirety. Peter Wood recently blogged about how colleges transform increases in federal student aid into higher tuition and fees. And we join with those who predict that either (a) the higher education bubble will burst or (b) the college degree will become a nearly empty credential. What can we do to forestall these unwelcome outcomes? The CCAP has some ideas. The first part of its report is "Use Lower Cost Alternatives." 1. Encourage more students to attend community college 2. Promote Dual Enrollment Programs 3. Reform Academic Employment Policies 4. Offer Three Year Bachelor's Degrees 5. Outsource More Services Click on the links to read each section.
That, anyway, is an explanation we sometimes hear from the higher education establishment. Colleges are supposedly helpless victims of rising costs, particular because rising productivity elsewhere in the economy increases the opportunity costs of faculty members to remain in the education sector. In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, economics professor Robert Martin takes a very dim view of a new book that sets forth that exculpatory argument. Martin refutes it, then gives his own explanation for rising costs, which implicates administrative bloat and declining faculty productivity. Martin's own book on this subject will be published early next year by Edward Elgar.
Last February, I participated in a debate organized by the Miller Center of Public Affairs and broadcast on PBS. That was one in a series of debates on issues of national importance the Miller Center has done. They followed that debate with another one on higher education, with the question being whether the business model of higher education is broken. In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, I take a rather critical look at the "business model" debate. It generated a little heat (specifically the hostility one debater, a community college president, has for the for-profit sector) but didn't shed much light on the key question: why does higher education cost so much?
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that 150 colleges have failed the Department of Education's test of financial responsibility this year. That means these colleges could be in danger of either closing or being bought by for-profit entities. Last year 114 colleges were on this list, and at least one - Dana College - did not survive.
Click on the chart below to see the Chronicle's interactive map of failing institutions for the last three years.
Writing for Huffington Post, Anya Kamenetz compares the huge level of student loan debt to the housing bubble. I'm glad to see understanding that we have oversold college spreading, but Kamenetz misses the role of the government in the college bubble, just as leftist writers turned a blind eye to the role of the government in the housing bubble. There would have been no housing bubble if it hadn't been for federal policy pushing home-ownership as if it were a good investment for everyone and making unrealistically cheap loans available. Similarly, government officials, starting with Barack Obama, keep telling young Americans that they need to go to college (otherwise, they're letting not just themselves but the nation down, says BHO) and enabling even the most academically weak, disengaged students to get into college with financial assistance from Uncle Sam. Kamenetz makes it sound as though the bad actors are all in the for-profit sector: "Someone with experience in the for-profit college marketing business told me that the same online sales geniuses who used to work for mortgage brokers are now employed by for-profit colleges. Their business is the same: fill out the forms, get the money, consequences be damned. Will we stop them this time?" Ah, but you'll find lots of kids drowning in their student loan debts who went to public colleges and universities as well. Those schools are just as eager to lure in warm bodies to fill the dorms and school coffers, just as eager to keep them enrolled even if they are learning little, and just as eager to slap educational credentials on them and send them into a job world that many will find as hospitable as Antarctica. The trouble is not the profit motive; non-profit institutions are no less hungry for revenue than proprietary ones. The trouble is that government policy makes it easy for people to misjudge the ratio between costs and benefits, leading to a profusion of decisions that borrowers later regret. Letting students escape from their debts in bankruptcy, which Kamenetz favors, only deals with the symptoms. I say we should attack the underlying pathology.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting opinion piece by Seth Godin called "The Coming Meltdown in Higher Education (as Seen by a Marketer)" [subscription required]. Godin suggests alternatives to the four-year college, such as "gap years, research internships, and entrepreneurial or social ventures after high school," and believes that "There are tons of ways to get a cheap liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter, and teaches you to make a difference (see DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, by Anya Kamenetz)" without going to a mainstream college. Godin argues that from a marketer's point of view, the typical American college is headed for obscurity for these reasons: