More on college tuition as a bubble
May 2, 2012 7 Comments
I blogged a couple weeks back about the similarity of college tuition and health care costs (up, up, up). I then linked to story about High Point University, and its highly leveraged play to recruit students.
My main thought about the escalation of college costs and worrying if it is “a bubble” is as a producer of college, a Professor; I worry that the cost structure of what we produce is too high, and that Universities will be too slow to adapt. I suspect that universities will have to look for non-traditional ways to generate revenue from non traditional students. The move toward providing free on line classes could be understood as a back door way of doing this by saying yes we are expensive, but we are providing benefit to those who cannot pay, get in, or who don’t want to do so, making the myriad subsidies “worth it”.
A series of important questions are relevant, many of which were raised by commenters to my post and to others.
- What is the goal of college? (better educated citizenry, get a job, mixture) This story of Duke Classics professor Peter Burian retiring after 44 years is interesting and relevant to this discussion. I sense a shift at Duke anyway toward the purpose of college being a credential for a job.
- How should the research mission of major Research universities be paid for? It it generally a given in a place like Duke that researchers bring something extra to the classroom because of their research work? Is this true? Does it make sense for researchers to teach undergraduates?
- What is the value of colleges to the taxpayers who subsidize us in many ways, but whose children will not go to college? This question is especially important for public Universities.
- Just as Harvard and MIT moving to provide free online courses, with Stanford having done similar will lead to copy cats (there has been discussion at Duke). Any move made by the so-called SHYMPs (Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton) will have great impact, especially on places like Duke that are below these in prestige. I suspect one of these 5 will someday soon drastically cut tuition for everyone. The actual average amount of tuition received per pupil might not change much given financial aid, but this will have cascading effects for other private Universities, who don’t have as large an endowment as those 5.
In addition to the fact that both tuition and health care have risen consistently faster than other parts of the economy for many years, I think there is a similar avoidance of the hard questions this fact raises by those producing/providing these services. In short, neither Professors in the case of college, nor doctors and other leaders in health care want to focus on the notion that there is likely a cost side problem in our enterprise. I think we in universities better get out in front and not simply defend the status quo. That is what I meant by college tuition as a bubble.