Friday, November 19, 2010

25 Ways to Do More With Less

By Richard Vedder*

While the Educational Establishment sees the biggest higher education problem to be an inadequate number of students receiving college degrees, I think the two biggest problems are, first, the lack of information about the quality of academic teaching and research and the accompanying worry that quality is mediocre and perhaps declining. Just as important, however, college is becoming ghastly expensive and productivity change in American universities has been somewhere between zero and negative.

But it is easy to criticize the status quo. What can be done to change it? My little think tank has sponsored two new works that offer lots of practical answers to the second of our big problems—namely excessive college costs.

In Doing More with Less: Making Colleges Work Better (edited by Joshua Hall and published by Springer), some 16 scholars offer suggestions on market-based approaches to reducing costs, ranging all the way from reforming intercollegiate athletics to more intelligent uses of master teachers.

An even more specific and cheaper, easy-to-access “electronic book” has been compiled by CCAP, entitled 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College. The ideas in the study are being released one section at a time over the next several weeks. Very few are terribly new or novel, but cumulatively, an adherence to the ideas could lead to powerful reductions in the per student cost of offering a college degree. We have already released chapters 1-5 of this report, and chapters 6-12 are coming out this Wednesday.
The ideas are:
  1. Increase the proportion of students attending low cost schools, such as community colleges;
  2. Promote dual enrollment programs (e.g., AP, the College Level Examination Program of the College Board, etc.);
  3. Revisit tenure and reform academic employment practices;
  4. Offer three-year Bachelor’s Degrees;
  5. Outsource far more services (e.g., remedial education, maintenance, maybe even building ownership);
  6. Reduce administrative staff—drastically;
  7. Eliminate unnecessary, low enrollment or qualitatively suspect programs;
  8. End the “athletics arms race,”
  9. Complete the overhual of the FAFSA form;
  10. Eliminate excessive academic research (e.g., publishing for the Journal of Last Resort or its equivalent);
  11. Streamline redundant programs at the state level;
  12. Promote more collaborative purchasing;
  13. Improve facility utilization (use market approaches to allocate and more fully use space);
  14. Increase teaching loads (the corollary to #10 above);
  15. Incentivize the timely completion of degrees;
  16. Move more classes online;
  17. Reduce textbook costs using new technologies and approaches;
  18. Digitize academic libraries, and reduce book acquisitions;
  19. Outsource e-mail;
  20. Utilize interactive course management tools using new technologies;
  21. Ease credit transfer problems between public institutions;
  22. Reform student aid programs at the federal and state levels;
  23. Reform accreditation and reduce barriers to entry;
  24. Subsidize students, not institutions and move to student-centered funding to a greater extent, and
  25. Promote competition based on value, not reputation.
Many ideas above have been implemented at some schools, and others are controversial and require some thinking as to implementation. Some offer possibilities for long, not short run, cost reduction. All require more elaboration than the listing I gave above. Those interested can get more details at

The big problem, of course, is that there are forces at work at colleges that make implementation difficult for even these extensive but not radical structural reforms. But these ideas are mostly good ones, and it is worth some effort to fight reactionary forces opposed to real reform in higher education.

*This post originally appeared on the "Innovations" blog of
The Chronicle of Higher Education on November 15, 2010.

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