Skip to comments.The Real Problems in Higher Ed (Our Universities are working on a doomed business model)
Posted on 02/06/2012 12:57:13 PM PST by SeekAndFind
‘Race to the Top” federal handouts, increasing Pell Grants, and executive-branch decrees won’t lower college tuition or improve the quality of university degrees, despite President Obama’s bluster in his State of the Union address. If only it were that simple.
The truth is that over the next decade, many universities may bankrupt themselves by clinging to an educational approach that confuses lecturing with learning and protects highly paid, tenured faculties and administrators from a tsunami of technological change that soon will deliver transformational learning at a fraction of today’s costs.
There’s a word for business models that have high and increasing fixed costs, and are faced by disruptive strategies that offer better results at a lower price. That word is “doomed.”
The president rightly acknowledged Americans’ burgeoning student-loan debt, which last year surpassed their credit-card debt. And it’s true that rising tuition and fees — after accounting for inflation, they increased by 5.6 percent annually between 2000 and 2011 — are a serious problem.
President Obama seems to think that increasing the size of federal Pell Grants will slow or reverse tuition increases. But work done by economists Larry D. Singell Jr. and Joe A. Stone at the University of Oregon seems to confirm former education secretary William Bennett’s charge that federal aid merely allows universities to raise tuition, giving professors and administrators more pay and leaving students with the same out-of-pocket costs.
The real problems in higher education are more fundamental than tuition increases alone:
1. A public that increasingly questions the value of a college degree.
In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa demonstrate that 45 percent of college students show little or no increase in critical-thinking skills after two years and 35 percent show few gains after four years.
It’s no wonder employers are increasingly unimpressed by a university diploma and so many unemployed college graduates showed up at Occupy Wall Street rallies.
2. High and rising fixed costs from tenured faculty, bloated administrative staffs, and expensive new buildings at a time when tenured-faculty teaching productivity is falling.
Much attention has rightly been paid to the construction of expensive student unions and the plague of highly paid administrators.
What is even more serious is falling faculty productivity. Decades ago, a tenured professor was paid a reasonable salary for teaching up to eight classes a year, each brimming with students.
Today many tenured professors now teach three classes or fewer a year, often with only a handful of students in each. Meanwhile, the salary and benefits of many full professors have grown to $150,000 or more — for a nine-month job in which most of their effort goes toward embellishing their academic credentials by writing esoteric journal articles that few people read.
During the last 20 years, much of that teaching responsibility has been outsourced to low-paid adjuncts, teaching assistants, and non-tenured full-time faculty, who now represent up to 70 percent of the total faculty.
The tenured faculty don’t go away; they just teach less and less, for more money. Hence, the rapidly rising cost per student at traditional universities.
3. A tsunami of technologically enabled educational change promises to deliver transformational learning at a fraction of today’s costs.
While expensive tenured faculty at most schools continue to lecture off PowerPoint slides, innovators at Stanford, MIT, Arizona State University, and Brigham Young University at Idaho are experimenting with new technologies that allow courses to be taught at a fraction of today’s cost.
Just two examples: Stanford University had over 160,000 students sign up for a recent online course in artificial intelligence. The cost of educating an additional student in such a class is near zero, and MIT has announced it will offer low-cost online certificates bearing the MIT brand.
The real threat? Given brick-and-mortar schools’ high and rising fixed costs, the defection of even a few students could put traditional universities into a rising-cost death spiral. The history of similarly disrupted businesses — such as the steel industry — suggests that a wave of bankruptcies can appear rapidly.
Will tenured faculty agree to lower salaries and higher teaching loads in the face of such threats? Will highly paid administrators give up their jobs? Not likely. Instead, it’s far easier for colleges to increase tuition on the next class, and ask the government for yet a larger bailout.
But even federal largesse can’t prop up a doomed business model forever.
— Jeff Sandefer is a Texas entrepreneur and educational innovator.
At one time, colleges were a place for great minds to get together and incubate great ideas. The rank and file could benefit from those ideas with the wide availabilty of books and libraries.
Substitute "the internet" for books and libraries and you can see why we might just be returning to that model.
” But even federal largesse cant prop up a doomed business model forever. “
Well, it won’t be for lack of trying - AMTRAK and the USPS were supposed to be self-sufficent and weaned off the Government Teat decades ago — and Fannie/Freddie are well along the same highway....
1. Provide general information about a topic.
2. Provide answers to specific questions about the topic.
3. Provide evaluation of the student's progress in learning the topic.
4. Provide a certification to the student that the individual classes or entire field of study as been completed satifactorily.
The first of these is the one most able to be stripped from the colleges. Right now, other than some very esoteric topics, it is possible to get the equivalent of a college level class from the internet and available text books. The second is a little more difficult. If you can't figure out how a certain integral is done, or what the meaning of a certain character's action in a book is it is harder to find someone to explain it too you. Maybe with increasing use of micropayments on the web professionals in various fields will set up businesses to do that. The last two are the hardest to replace. How will I get someone to grade my essays or dig through a few pages of mathematical proofs to show my weaknesses and strengths and what I need more work on. Sure, every FReeper is willing to tell me when I mixed "to" and "too", but who wants to grade papers unless they are being paid (either dollars or a reduced/free price on further education as a TA)? And finally, who wants to do the final accreditation on a student. Some technical fields will continue to have their own testing procedures like the various computer service accreditations, but who is going to say that I am qualified to be a professional in history, economics or literature?
If colleges want to survive, they better focus on the evaluation and accreditation procedures, because the raw education will slip from them no matter what they do.
Contrary to the claims inferred from the article, teaching load is appropriately reduced when a professor obtains a research grant, or other additional areas of responsibility, such as an administrative load.
” but who is going to say that I am qualified to be a professional in history, economics or literature? “
Ya mean the ‘professionals in history’ who embrace and promulgate the revisionist non-history taught in our schools today??
Or the ‘professionals in economics’ who placed “Unexpected” into the lexicon of drinking games??
Or, perhaps, you refer to the ‘professionals in literature’ who refuse to even read the classics because they were “all written by White Male Oppressors”??
It would appear, from my vantage, that if you’re correct in your assertion that some process of accreditation is necessary, the one we have is surely lacking.....
Which goes back to the question of whether universities are primarily educational institutions which occasionally do some research, or if they are research institutions which have to put up with students. Where (and when) I went to university the vast majority of classes were taught by people with PhDs and only a few taught by grad students or outside instructors. The administration believed that it was primarily there for education and lost a few professors who wanted to be researchers instead. Even the occasional adjuncts often were hired from a nearby military graduate school (fortunately that section of the university didn't have very many leftists who would grind their teeth at the idea of a military officer in uniform teaching a class) . The laboratory sections were where the TAs (including me) ended up, but not the lecture sections.
Is it really necessary to write a research paper? If I can go in and write an extensive test that covers everything about a particular subject, including some very esoteric questions, wouldn’t I pretty much prove my mastery of that subject material?
All a research paper would prove is that I can do research. Perhaps that should be covered by a separate course.
Critical thinking now means bashing conservatives.
The colleges could lower tuition substantially by cutting the number of administrators to about a quarter of what they are now, halting their construction projects and doing away with their multi-cultural/diversity bureaucracies.
Returning all student loan origination (and collection) to private banks would take care of most of the rest.
I have looked at higher education in this way for several years now. My wife characterized it as “piracy”. But it still applies and the business model is still doomed.
Heres my modest proposal for education reform.
We have been discussing ways to fast track kids through high school to avoid the liberal agenda and other idiocies:
Proposal for the Free Republic High School Diploma.