Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Best Advice

By Richard Vedder

One of America's smartest entrepreneurs --a risk-taker in the great American tradition -- is Randy Best, a Texan who is on a mission to offer low cost college education to the masses throughout the world. He called yesterday, and offered some good advice, as he almost always does (full disclosure: I did some work for Mr. Best a few years ago, and have a minuscule investment in his ventures).

Randy made the same point that Craig Barrett of Intel, Erskine Bowles of the University of North Carolina and others made at the follow-up to the education summit in DC last week -- keep recommendations for reform simple, promoting one or two "big ideas" instead of a laundry list of smaller changes that will not stir the emotions of the American people.

Randy says affordable education will come to America, prices will tumble, and traditional universities will reform like crazy, if just two conditions are met. First, get rid of maddening barriers to entry, especially via accreditation. Second, make higher education transparent -- give parents and students full information on the performance of colleges, how they spend their money, attrition rates, success of graduates after college, etc. If those conditions are met, you will have private entrepreneurs like Randy swarm the market, competing mightily for students and offering increasingly high quality education at reasonable prices.

I think Randy is right. To be sure, the education Randy would offer trains people for vocations, and provides information, but does little to instill values or perform the socialization dimensions of college. But the vocational/knowledge dimensions of education are most critical, and his big ideas are the right ones. On accreditation: regional associations often limit the geographic scope of colleges, in effect preventing them from operating over the entire country or the world. Randy tells me, as a consequence, other nations are surging ahead of us in innovative use of technology. We need to reform, and along the lines Randy is suggesting.

4 comments:

Ken D. said...

Second, make higher education transparent -- give parents and students full information on the performance of colleges, how they spend their money, attrition rates, success of graduates after college, etc.

Agree! If public universities were required to publish graduate job-placement / average starting salary data for each program, students would make wiser education investments. Without this data, students tend to be overly-optimistic about their job prospects.

RJO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RJO said...

Regarding transparency, this project on financial transparency is one of the most promising in higher education today. If state legislatures mandated this for all their campuses, we would enter a radically new world of good campus governance and flush out a lot of corruption, especially in sports programs.

ck2_nd said...

I will use this chance to promote my favorite cause. Move college loans back to private institutions but let them use the transparent information to set the loan rates. If people know that they are more likely to graduate and get a good job by going to Colorado School of Mines than going to CU Boulder they my go to Mines, if the bank tells them that there is a 3% difference in the loan rate and the mines loan is deferred they will go to mines.