Thursday, November 18, 2010

Salmon v. Fish on College Affordability

by Andrew Gillen

Stanley Fish declares “There is no college cost crisis.”

Felix Salmon doesn’t agree.

Archibald and Feldman prefer to “ask instead whether the amount left over after subtracting the cost of college is rising or falling over time.” The answer they give (buttressed by statistical tables) is “rising”

Archibald and Feldman allow us to say that at least in the area of costs the fault lies not in ourselves, but in the stars.
in general this approach to gauging affordability is absolutely bonkers: the percentage rise in price is completely ignored, and only the dollar rise in price matters. Using this technique, just about anything can be considered “more affordable than it was in the past.”…

What’s more, I haven’t read the book, but Fish’s take does seem to be at odds with its official blurb…

in order for Fish’s argument to hold water, IT costs at colleges would have to be rising faster than inflation year in and year out. Which strains credulity, in a world where IT is getting steadily cheaper and where a lot of IT services can now take place in the cloud. Even if the move into the cloud is only now beginning, I very much doubt that it’s ever going to result in a decrease in tuition fees.

The fact is that technology is a way of reducing the costs of education much more than it is a factor in their growth…

“Archibald and Feldman,” says Fish, “allow us to say that at least in the area of costs the fault lies not in ourselves, but in the stars.” Which I’m sure is convenient for Fish, who describes himself as a “dean who encountered the rising costs of personnel, laboratory equipment, security, compliance demands, information systems and much more every day.” But it’s not particularly believable.
Fish uses the words “bizarre and ignorant.” We’ll leave it to you to decide which side of this debate those words apply to.

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