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.