By Richard Vedder
One of the positive fringe benefits of running a small think tank is that you get to make new friends and meet interesting new people with intriguing ideas. One such person is Vance Fried. Vance is a lawyer by training who has become a senior management professor at Oklahoma State University, and has done some excellent thinking about the production of higher education services.
Today, Vance has a nice piece in INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION where he claims you can offer a high quality education for $7,376 a year --total cost. The article is a teaser for the longer (about 40 page) study that CCAP is producing and will release in the next week or so.
How does Vance do it? Universities that are inexpensive cannot be all things to all people, and Vance sharply limits the number of majors and the number of courses taught. A proliferation of electives is one reason instructional costs are high. Vance hires (in his mind) relatively few teachers, gives them reasonable teaching loads, but has pretty large classes --low student-teacher ratios wreak havoc with costs. Vance has a lean and mean administrative structure. He uses technology intelligently. And so on.
As Vance himself admits, others might not like the type of school he has concocted from his imagination, and might prefer different course emphases, etc. But a school built from the ground up that focuses just on fundamentals can educate a student in a reasonably quality fashion for $10,000 or less per student a year --less than half of what a typical public university spends. Over half the cost of higher education goes for various things that do not directly impact on learning --low teaching loads for research, underutilized facilities related to the peculiarities of the academic calendar, huge expenses related to "student services" and extracurricular activities and public relations specialists and diversity coordinators --most of which could be eliminated. Vance, by the way, believes some extracurricular activities are part of college life, and even budgets for relatively low cost teams in some sports. If the University of Phoenix can educate kids for $10,000 or less a year, so can a traditional university that lacks all the costly trappings of the modern day academy.
I commend Vance's article in today's INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION, and recommend as well the forthcoming CCAP study.