Writing in Gadfly, Chester Finn makes some practical suggestions to cut college costs for students who’d just as soon do without the deluxe recreation center if they could earn a degree with less debt. Finn suggests letting students pay for amenities and services they really want, instead of folding everything into the tuition bill. In addition:
A year-round, four-quarter calendar with facilities in constant use, steady work for employees and the opportunity for energetic students to finish in three years.
Faculty paid well but worked hard: a full teaching load, no tenure, and the expectation that their job is to teach. (Those wanting to engage in research raise grant dollars and “buy out” some of their teaching time.)
A trimmed-down curriculum with a solid core and strong majors in a dozen fields. Those wanting to study social work, broadcasting, expressive dance, or contemporary Somali politics would see that No-Frills U is not the school for them. It makes no pretense of teaching everything.
Rigorous exit standards with diplomas equivalent to an intellectual “warranty.”
Students pay for themselves, with outside grants and loans and suchlike for those who are eligible but no “Robin Hood” behavior within the college’s own budget.
Public university costs are now soaring; it’s not just a problem at private colleges. Yet no-frills education is being provided by for-profits like the University of Phoenix and coursework increasingly is available online.
Because distance learning makes it possible not only to slash campus expenses but also to extend the “reach” of a given professor to far more students than one could ever teach face-to-face, it serves willy-nilly to boost academic productivity. The fact that more students now assemble their college credits from multiple providers—the academic equivalent of “grazing”—puts considerably more leverage into the consumer’s hands and correspondingly less in those of producers.
The trick is to write student-aid rules that provide access while encouraging colleges to be more productive.
California’s second-tier university system may turn away about 20,000 eligible students next year due to the state budget crisis. I wonder whether the universities will decide on the basis of academic preparation or simply on when the student applied. A majority of California State University freshmen must take remedial English or math classes.