Thursday, August 06, 2009

CCAP at 1,000

By Richard Vedder

This is the 1,000th post on the CCAP web site. It took a bit over three years to reach that milestone, meaning, on average, that over one blog has been posted per work day on the site, or about six per week. At the beginning, a large majority were done by me, but recently I have encouraged more blog participation from our growing staff, and I have reduced my own participation a tad. I am gratified by the number of persons who have told me that they look at the blog and other CCAP activities, and take them seriously.

It is tempting to pat ourselves on the back and brag at all we have accomplished. Certainly, CCAP has grown from a minuscule organization with two staffers (Bryan O'Keefe and myself) into a larger organization. Andrew Gillen, Daniel Bennett, Todd Holbrook and Peter Neiger run the DC office. In Ohio, besides myself, we have the assistance of Jonathan Leirer, plus a formidable army of Whiz Kids --student interns who are the world's best. One, Matt Denhart, Chief Whiz Kid, has been with us from the beginning. So the organization has grown in size and scope. Our press citations are now rather lengthy, and we are consulted or involved in many leading stories about higher education.

But is higher education any better than it was three years ago? That is a harder question to answer. Of course, we do not have good measure of outcomes --so we cannot say whether "output" in higher education is rising or falling. On the cost side, there has been a huge amount of rhetoric, but I cannot say I have seen much in the way of a slowdown in the rise in the real cost of higher education. Although the rhetoric has intensified and even some real efforts have been made, I see at best modest improvement in increasing higher education efficiency, transparency and accountability.

The reason, of course, is that the fundamental operating environment of higher education remains unchanged. It is a largely a non-profit industry driven by third party payments. Until the role of first parties in financing higher education increases, and until the time that market-like incentives become commonplace, it is very unlikely that people in the system will be motivated to do necessary things: cut costs, use technology intelligently to improve quality per dollar spent, measure performance adequately, etc., etc.

Are there any promising signs on the horizon? Yes. One is that for profit higher education is growing. For profits are not a panacea for all the problems of higher education. But they operate with better incentive systems, are all about instruction, and introduce great competition. The fall in state government support, decried by many, is something I view positively. We are seeing the slow privatization of many of our great flagship schools.

The Obama Administration's socialist/big government agenda is not good for the American economy as a whole, and not good for higher education. The attempt to centralize authority, which has gone on for decades in American life, is accelerating. This threatens on of the unique strengths of U.S. postsecondary education --its diversity, its variety.

What is the future for CCAP specifically? I don't know. We have the building blocks for further expansion into being a major force for reform. We have the enthusiasm, the ideas, and the ability to raise needed resources. There are some organizational/administrative issues, some associated with getting big, that need to be resolved, and the resolution of these issues will influence the direction the organization moves. But the issues of higher education reform are likely to be present for a long time to come.


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