Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Libertarian's Lament

By Richard Vedder

Jeff Sandefer pointed out that tenured faculty draw big pay but low paid adjuncts and graduate students do the bulk of the teaching. Rep. Morrison of the Texas legislature outlined some sensible steps to cut costs (e.g., encouraging good high school students to take courses). And I pointed out the pernicious effects that accreditation might have on barriers to entry to teaching. I have just summarized a higher education panel at the annual policy conclave of the Texas Pubic Policy Foundation.

But then a fellow emblazoned with Ron Paul buttons got up and asked a question --a good one, in my judgment: Aren't most of the problems of higher education solvable simply by getting government out of our colleges and universities? He was saying "you (Morrison-Sandefer-Vedder) were talking about symptoms --the real disease is governmental involvement."

I think our libertarian questioner had a good point. Governments make massive third party payments that make customers and providers less sensitive to costs. The cool attitude of governments towards for profit institutions in some states has reduced competition and market-based efficient modes of service delivery. Massive research federal grants have had the impact of devaluing teaching. Etc. etc.

It is interesting that states with less government financial involvement in higher education (e.g., New Hampshire or Massachusetts) very often have higher proportions of college graduates than states with great governmental involvement (North Carolina). The question is: had governments not gotten involved in higher education, what would our colleges and universities have been like today? I am not altogether convinced that we would have inferior, fewer colleges or a less educated populace. And I am almost certain we would be spending a lot less of our resources on this sector of the economy.

3 comments:

John Mecham said...

Don't let the developing world make the same mistake - some enlightening research has been done by James Tooley on budget private schools that make a profit in developing countries world wide. The research so persuasivly showed that these schools produce higher performing students at much less the cost and for a profit that now Opportunity International - one of the largest microfinance institution networks in the world - has started a new microschool initiative in Ghana. The Libertarian's Lament may be relinquished by such efforts. That is if the PARTNERSHIP TO STRENGTHEN AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES doesn't introduce government based solutions and implement a system that will be beholden to socialist ideology for years to come. http://www.carnegie.org/sub/program/partnership.html

The foundations who are involved in the funding are among the biggest and have relatively little fear of big government.

I sense there will be a "show down" in Africa. The War of Ideas is going to be leashed there just like everywhere else. May liberty win.

sciencedoc said...

Poor libertarian! He spent his career at the also-ran public university in Ohio, became a chaired professor, then discovered in his retirement how awful public higher education is. I feel so very bad for him.

He's right, though, if North Carolina hadn't worked so hard to build up UNC, then Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth, and all the rest of the New England higher education establishment would have ended up in North Carolina. I'm sure that's right.

Chris said...

((Poor libertarian! He spent his career at the also-ran public university in Ohio, became a chaired professor, then discovered in his retirement how awful public higher education is. I feel so very bad for him.))

In the immortal words of Bill Murray in Stripes, "I wanna party with you, Cowboy."