Cutting Costs at Colleges

Can you do it without harming the quality of education?  That’s the focus of a recent Schumpeter piece in the Economist.  It outlines the approach advocated by Oklahoma University’s Vance Fried (what a great name):

First, separate the funding of teaching and research. Research is a public good, he reasoned, but there is no reason why undergraduates should pay for it. Second, increase the student-teacher ratio. Business and law schools achieve good results with big classes. Why not other colleges? Mr Fried thinks that universities will be able to mix some small classes with big ones even if they have fewer teachers. Third, eliminate or consolidate programmes that attract few students. Fourth, puncture administrative bloat. The cost of administration per student soared by 61% in real terms between 1993 and 2007. Private research universities spend $7,000 a year per student on “administrative support”: not only deans and department heads but also psychologists, counsellors, human-resources implementation managers and so on.

Actually, with the exception of the first recommendation, many colleges are already trying to do most of this.  The one caveat to note is that the comparison of class sizes between regular colleges and business and law schools is not entirely fair.  The latter programs can afford large classes because they are graduate programs serving students who have already acquired sound academic skills in the smaller classes taken during their undergraduate careers.

The article has some other suggestions, such as decreasing the time to degree from 4 years to 3 years (even though most US students take even longer than 4 years to complete).  It is argued that this could become even more likely if college cost less and more students could enroll full-time without also working full time.  You can read the whole article here.

Of course, this all presupposes that we know why we are educating people in the first place. . .

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