Wednesday, December 01, 2010

25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College: Part 4

With the generous support of Lumina Foundation, CCAP is releasing today the fourth part of the five-part study 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College, a detailed analysis of different ways that college administrators and public policy leaders can cut college costs, with the goal of making colleges both more productive in their use of resources and also more affordable to students. The fourth part, titled "Exploit Technology," includes the following five chapters:
16. Move More Classes Online: For-profit institutions have demonstrated that online education can greatly lower costs for students by taking advantage of economies of scale. Furthermore, online courses can significantly reduce capital costs associated with traditional instruction. They also allow students to live at home and save money through reduced commuting and room and board costs.

17. Reduce Textbook Costs: The price of college textbooks has soared over the years. More professors are opting for electronic books, and the development of devices such as the Kindle and the iPad are likely to further the revolution in electronic publishing. As technologies continue to develop, universities should find ways to encourage faculty to select texts that students can purchase through cheaper means.

18. Digitize Academic Libraries: The revolution in information technology should radically revise the concept of the university library. The greatest promise for library cost savings comes from the digitization of books and periodicals. Services like JSTOR and the Google Library Book Project are enabling university libraries to downsize their physical presence as a book warehouse while providing more research materials in a more convenient fashion.

19. Outsource Email Services: Email has become the dominant mode of communication. IT specialists like Google and Microsoft can offer email services much more cheaply than university providers through lower storage and staffing costs and reduced costs to maintain servers, archive and filter messages. Universities are in the business of creating and disseminating knowledge and could save money by outsourcing auxiliary functions like email to specialized private-sector providers.

20. Utilize Course Management Tools: There are a vast number of new technologies available to revamp the learning experience to be more interactive and applicable to today’s students who are inhabitants of a new information age. Some examples include Blackboard, Wiki pages, blogs and electronic clickers. Such technologies should be analyzed carefully and implemented if they improve service quality in a cost effective manner.
Each of these chapters is available for free download from our website (in pdf). The fifth and final installment of 25 Ways is scheduled for release next Wednesday, December 8. At this date, the report will be available for download both in its entirety or in individual chapters.

1 comment:

Glen S. McGhee said...

The question is, how do you lower the cost without cheapening the experience?

Don't you realize that high tuition -- as high as what the market will allow -- is a marker for quality?

I think that you need to address these two points -- both having to do with quality -- to make your model work.

In the first instance, lowering cost would also mean lowering quality and increasing accessibility. But increased accessibility means a lowered benefit: if everyone had a degree, they would be worthless.

Second, there is no legitimate ranking system of educational quality. The market requires information on which to base decisions, no matter how bounded or limited this may be, and right now, tuition serves this function for many colleges.

The single-point focus on lowering cost misses the forest for the tree, and a lot more as well. The question is how to broaded your economic model to align it with the peculiar sector of higher education.

For example, as occurred during the Great Depression, enrollments hestitated, then grew -- even though the derived benefit had significantly decreased.

Same thing now.

This suggests that degree production is not subject to market forces, at least not in the usual sense. Degrees are not tangible products in the same way that a car or a refrigerator is; rather, a degree is a symbolic good that attests to the bearer's membership in the middle class, and potential worth in the workplace.

But this is only in terms of gaining access to job openings and interviews. And this, of course, depends on the extent to which jobs are available.

In higher ed, however, we have a contradictory situation where the collapsing wave of actual demand for credentials only seems to give rise to the push for accumulating degrees at the next level, and so on. The collapse of demand feeds directly into successive waves of higher education attainment -- not the labor market -- producing the base for the next "swell" in demand. But this "demand" is not coming from the market -- it is self-produced.

Actual demand should not be confused with the racheting up of job titles, without changes in underlying technical demands of the job itself -- as is occurring now; this can be seen as a market response to the swollen supply of graduates now seeking work.

In addition, inflated credential requirements are indicative of the extent to which market demand shapes itself in response to the availability of workers, and not the other way around. (It has been suggested, for example, that the service industry itself is just this kind of market response.)

Theoretical considerations of this kind of complexity and feed-back effects are necessary, I think.