My recent post, which highlighted the fact that actual spending is out of all proportion to reasonable costs of instruction, has not been well received by some in the higher ed establishment. As far as I can tell, the thrust of the critics is that universities have to spend all that money on various things, and that there is just no way around it. This is kind of like observing the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and concluding that it’s not possible to provide a cup of coffee for less than $5.
But just as the $5 price tag at Starbucks includes amore than just coffee, the per student spending figures at all levels of education contain a lot of other spending, such as ritzy dorms, unnecessary staff, $13,000 Sushi robots, funds to upgrade closing schools, and (ironically for this post) unused cappuccino/espresso machines.
To say that I’m naïve about the financial needs of modern higher education may be true in many respects. But it is just as naïve to treat a process that results in such wasteful spending as sacrosanct. Moreover, it misses my point completely. The amount of money spent per student is out of all proportion to the actual cost of providing an education. And this matters because college has become a huge financial burden for many students and families.
Lucky for me, Rich has already expanded on my point for me:
Too many of today's colleges and universities have lost focus -- they try to do too many things --run entertainment enterprises, have conference centers competing for the convention trade, run food and lodging operations, TRY to spur economic development (almost always unsuccessfully), engage in commercial technology transfer, etc., etc.
By all means, continue coming up with dubious rationalizations (like the example here) for maintaining the status quo. Just don’t be surprised when students that are not getting a good deal stop showing up.
This has already happened to Starbucks and many expensive private schools are getting a taste of this right now:
The question about how much one should stretch to pay for college — and a new clear-eyed realization that loans must be repaid — are making officials at some private schools nervous.
Even less expensive schools that are so far unfazed would be well advised to think long and hard about if their spending patterns are wise. In the age of Google, Wikipedia, and video lectures from top practioners, it may not be long before they too come out on the wrong side of potential students’ cost benefit calculations.