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Thursday, February 18. 2010
At Commentary. One quote:
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"They (the American people) think college is important..."
But why do they think this? The reality is, higher education has not been marketed primarily as having value because knowledge is valuable in its own right. It hasn't even been marketed as having value because it teaches you actual skills you will need in your career. It has been marketed as having value because "you need a degree to get a good job"..that is, strictly for credential value.
Something that is valued for the circular reason that it is valued..this is the definition of a bubble.
College should be for scholars.
Like 1% of the population.
There are far cheaper ways to learn job skills, however technical.
Unfortunately college is important because our primary and secondary school system fails to provide an adequate education. With the demise of a liberal arts education, college has failed us too.
It's time to replace the educators with teachers.
There may be an economic reason.
College educating, particularly most undergrad work, is very labor intensive. Despite all the labor-saving (labor-replacing) capital that has boosted productivity across the broad economy, most of college is spent face-to-face.
As capital replaces labor, it boosts productivity from the remaining labor. The substitution of capital for labor, then, lowers costs (and prices). But the remaining labor, being more productive, can command higher wages.
Colleges have to bid for labor services against the broad economy, where wages have risen thanks to capital-fueled productivity gains. But college educating didn’t get more productive (you still get the same sheepskin). So the cost of education rises out of scale from the general rate of inflation.
Rather than compare against the average inflation, compare against the inflation in wage rate for skilled/expert labor.
Now, I’m not saying the whole Big Ed thing isn’t dirty. And I want to see the eggheads brought back down to earth when technology finally crumbles the Ivory Tower. But college is expensive for more neutral reasons than just subsidy capture and feather-bedding.
And a related issue: The product of college has become less valuable even as prices of production have risen out of scale. It’s as if we have expert weavers training students on the hand loom while the “uneducated” are busy making acres of cloth on power looms in the real world. What could they possibly teach in 4 years that would make someone worth all they charge?
If you want to be a more valuable laborer, you need to know how to use tools (capital). That’s why vocational schools put people into better life positions more quickly: lower cost for learning more productive skills.
You make valid points, however, the great expansion of totally useless majors such as the variety of 'studies' courses that drags in salaries, staff and facilities, the reduced productivity of high priced tenured professors who work very little and outsource most of their teaching to lower paid assistants and the geat expansion of country club like facilities all have contributed to an increase in cost with no increase in value or perhaps an actual decrease in value.
The whole college experience has become mostly a big extended party for the students and suppended reality for the liberal faculty. This fantasy like many others this decade is starting to crash.
You make me see another point--
Tenured outsourcing to TAs lowers the average cost per instructor, so Big Ed could claim that their wages are not a big problem; they might even claim that teaching wages lag the general average. But to do so would ignore the total wage cost and the the cost per student or degree granted.
It would be as if Detroit kept union labor on the payroll while also hiring non-union workers to actually assemble the cars.
I suspect that this is what happens in pre-college education. The new teachers are not paid much, and that’s who we see when the NEA lobbies government. But we never see the older career teachers who are being compensated well above the average worker.
The Democrat party wants the federal government to take over the health care industry. Their stated objectives, over and over are to control skyrocketing costs and improve the quality of care. The federal government already has a lot of control over the higher education industry, and has had for a long time. Yet we have skyrocketing costs and many would argue the quality of the education received has gone down. I have yet to hear Obama give one speech about how he is going to bring down the cost of higher education. He has given several about how important higher education is, but nothing about how he is going to get the cost side of the equation under control. Show me you can do that while improving quality and then and only then will we talk about this health care thing.
Another thing that should be pointed out is that especially at private schools you need to distinguish between the "rack rate" that is supposedly the tuition and what students are actually paying.
You will get quoted a tuition based upon how much they want you to come. If you're from a middle class white family, you will probably be quoted the full freight rate. If you are a minority needed for affirmative action goal purposes or have some other sort of talent wanted by the school, such as being a top athlete, you will be provided with a package of "financial aid" that will reduce your cost to much less than someone paying full freight. The students paying full freight end up subsidizing the students getting deals from the college, thus paying more than the actual market value of the education if everyone had to pay the same amount. (That is, it works just like a "progressive" tax structure.)
One result of this has been that a lot of middle class white families who don't qualify for special treatment can no longer go to private colleges and have to opt for the local public college or community college.
I'm sorry if this sounds racist but that's how it works. I've seen it with my own kids. Nowhere at my son's college can you figure out what the "real" tuition is. It's all a number quoted to the admittee and adjusted by various "merit" scholarships, "need" scholarships, "work-aid" subsidies, etc.
Don't discount the fact that those paying the "full rate" are paying not only for themselves to go to school but are also subsidizing the "discount" students.