Phi Beta Cons

Higher Ed Needs the Creative Destruction of the Free Market

That view is hardly surprising among the limited-government types who frequent PBC, but quite surprising when you hear it from a “progressive” writer. That’s the case, however, with DIY U by Anya Kamenetz, and I write about the book in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call.

I entitle my piece “Three Cheers for Half a Book,” but it’s really only about the first third that is marred by the author’s fondness for hard-wired leftist ideas such as that we need to “fix the economy” with more redistribution and by fomenting labor unions. That stuff isn’t relevant to Kamenetz’s core argument that higher ed is being transformed to make it far more user friendly and less expensive. Although she doesn’t exactly say so, change is happening through laissez-faire capitalism. The free market’s process for discovering what works well and abandoning what works less well is boiling away and will lead to dramatic changes in higher education — unless the institutions of the status quo manage to stop it by the use of political influence.

This is something that “progressives” and free-market advocates can agree on: Established institutions (businesses, universities, professional associations, etc.) usually attempt to protect themselves against change by appealing to politicians for favors. To the extent that they succeed, progress is thwarted. As momentum for change builds, look for colleges to start lobbying for regulations designed to slow or stop it.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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