Matt Yglesias points us to Freddie de Boer’s recent call for tuition-free public higher education institutions
If the state U’s can claw some funding back and compete on price, that’s a big start. But we should make the competition to lower costs while providing quality instruction even fiercer. Here’s my dream: a system of five federal universities. Northeastern American University, Southeastern American University, Central American University, Southwestern American University, and Northwestern American University. They would be explicitly oriented towards providing a cheap, quality education in the traditional sense. I’d like to shoot for a tuition of $0, and I think that is a achievable goal with the right governmental funding, charitable support, and ruthlessness about unnecessary amenities. I would settle for $2,500 a year for any student from within each geographical region and $5,000 for any students who want to go to a university from outside of their region.
Though I can’t find a working link, Vance Fried and I wrote an article last winter that ended on a related note:
There have been a number of promising recent developments in higher education. The most impressive may well be the rise of Western Governor’s University, a highly innovative institution built around entirely online delivery and a competency-based degree—i.e., WGU grants credits based on test performance, and does not require class attendance. A WGU student who is already very knowledgeable about software programming, having worked as a coder before starting work on her degree, might secure a credit in computer science by passing a final exam without actually taking a course. In essence, WGU offers the equivalent of a CPA exam for every subject.
Moreover, WGU charges its students based not on the number of credits they complete, but rather on an “all you can eat” basis over two semesters: If you can demonstrate competency in seven or eight semesters’ worth of credits in only two semesters, you pay the price for two. The beauty of the WGU model is that it allows students to seek instruction anywhere they can find it—they can read independently, study with a tutor, enroll in some other school, etc.—while turning to WGU to certify that they’ve mastered the relevant material.
In a somewhat similar vein, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has sponsored MITx, a program through which students who take free online courses offered by the MIT can, for a modest fee, secure an MITx credential by demonstrating a thorough understanding of the material.
It’s not just online programs that show promise. Grace College, a small college in northern Indiana, uses a much more traditional, residential model. But it has recently trimmed some unnecessary spending and moved summer school totally online. As a result, a Grace degree can now be earned in three years for total tuition of $37,000, about the same as an Indiana resident pays over four years to get a degree from Purdue or Indiana University, Bloomington.
The combination of low profit margins and innovation-encouraging models might even allow higher-education costs to fall well below 1980 levels—and if current levels of subsidies at the state government level were retained, higher education could even be tuition-free. Through competition and innovation, we can achieve the dream of left-wing higher-education visionaries—but without breaking the bank. [Emphasis added]
Vance Fried has done a great deal of work on how colleges can reduce costs while increasing instructional quality. “Opportunities for Efficiency and Innovation: A Primer on How to Cut College Costs” summarizes some of his work on this subject. He focuses on five basic strategies:
1.Eliminate or separately fund research and public service
2.Optimize class size
3.Eliminate or consolidate low enrollment programs
4.Eliminate administrator bloat
5.Downsize student life programs
I assume that Freddie (and Matt) would disagree with Vance in many respects, but I found this convergence interesting.