... My basic thought ... is that the paradigm college experience is just plain going
to cost a lot. Four years being a full-time student at a residential college,
say. That’s not going to come cheap. We shouldn’t beat our brains out about how
we can do this thing inexpensively... There isn’t some conspiracy to
artificially inflate the cost of college. We could do different things.
That might cost less. ... But there isn’t any reason to think we can do
substantially the same things we already are, just at much lower cost. This is
clearly a source of sincere disagreement... Some people think that the rate at
which college costs have gone up means that there must be some way to
pop the cost bubble and dramatically lower costs back down without sacrificing
quality. There’s some conspiracy of incompetence or venality by the
administrators/teachers. We need to break the back of that, whatever it
is, then things would get better. I don’t really think that’s plausible, but if
you think it’s plausible, go ahead and work out your own solution to the problem
along those lines.
College is a premium product. A costly good. But a valuable one we want people
to have. If the state isn’t going to subsidize its provision, making it
available to all, then how will it go?
Option 1: everyone who isn’t rich goes into serious debt to pay for this costly
but valuable good.
Option 2: we devise a less premium product. It won’t be as good, but it will
I distrust Option 1. In fact, I’m paranoid about it, for reasons
outlined in this article. I
don’t quite drink the full jug of kool-aid. For example, I don’t buy that
tuition has skyrocketed ‘because it can’. That is, there’s just a speculative
bubble, in effect. I don’t think the growth in administration is quite as
sinister as they suggest. It’s largely a function of universities wanting to do
so much for students – so many programs and options and choices – which is a
good thing. But it creates overhead costs.
I do agree that private for-profit outfits like University of Phoenix are, in
effect, trying to get their noses into the huge trough of student loan money.
That’s worrisome. The old are eating their young, leaving them holding the debt
bag [pardon my mixed metaphor]. I am less worried by things like Western
Governors University, which seems genuinely committed to trying to find a way to
Option 2. Which makes me sad, but at least it isn’t some private sector trick to
saddle students with debt. At least it’s an attempt to keep the democratic ideal
of higher education for all alive, even if the dream looks pretty
Western Governors gives up the dream of a well-rounded liberal arts education.
It gives up all the stuff that you can only do hands-on, in person. It gives up
college as a formative social experience. It gives up a lot. But what it
provides is worth something, and it’s not clear they are charging more than it
is worth. It just makes me depressed to look at it, is all. But I can’t really
argue with the logic of it, if the alternative is Option 1..., it might
be the way of the future. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 12:27 AM in Economics, Universities |