By Richard Vedder
Vance Fried of Oklahoma State University opined once for us that a good quality college education could be offered for a fraction of current cost. Texas entrepreneur extraordinaire Randy Best has told me that a good quality Internet based education could be offered world wide for under $2000 a year per student. I can see even a traditional (student-faculty personal interaction) university offer good quality instruction for $7000 a year. That is pretty close to costs at the good quality for profit schools. If we offered, say, $5000 maximum vouchers (Pell Grants?) to poorer students, they could finance an education without student loans. If we gave out 6 million of these vouchers averaging $4,000 apiece, the total cost, $24 billion would be vastly less than current public spending.
What would the university look like? Much like current for-profits.
1)Course offerings would be vastly more limited than at present. Professors would have much higher teaching loads. Libraries would be small and mostly internet-based.
2) Research would be financed separately at separate research institutes, as would graduate education. This would make transparent the enormous cross subsidization going on in higher education.
3) There would be a very small administrative staff of registrars, admissions people, etc., and no PR specialists, diversity coordinators, football coaches (there would be no intercollegiate athletics), or residence life people (no dorms).
4) Buildings would be clean, modern and utilitarian, but not luxurious and used 80-90 hours a week and year round. There would be no climbing walls, indoor running tracks, 50 seat Jacuzzis or the like (common in today's residential colleges).
5) Technology would be used to the hilt, with traditional teaching mixed with a lot of computer and television based instruction. Great lectures from superstar teachers, for example, would be used for years and replayed frequently, with the instructors paid handsomely, but with low per lecture costs per student.
6) There would be no tenure, no art galleries, no development office, etc.
7) Learning would be measured, outcomes reported and transparent.
8) There would be no Office of Student Financial Aid.
Students wanting socialization, country club like facilities, football teams, etc., could go to the high priced alternative, but would be expected to shoulder the extra cost of such institutions themselves. The government would otherwise get out of the undergraduate education business. I have nothing against Cadillac/Lexus quality education at yuppie residential schools (I went to one myself). But I question whether it is a public responsibility to pay for it. We do not pay for high school kids to go to Phillips Exeter or Groton (expensive private boarding schools) -- why do we pay for them to go to Harvard?
Such an idea would save money, improve access, lower the growth in college costs (vouchers would go up only with the rate of inflation). We would have more and better educated college graduates a generation from now. Why don't we do it? The Establishment of university folks, student loan providers, etc., do not want this. So we pay more for less, and suffer as a nation as a consequence.