The Agenda

On the College Cartel

In the latest issue of National Review, Vance Fried of Oklahoma State University and I have an article on how competition and innovation can lower the cost of a high-quality college education. Subscribers can access the article at this link, and it should be more widely available soon. The prescriptions are dramatic. One of the core ideas we advance, rooted in Vance’s research on the sources of cost growth in higher education, is that federal subsidies for higher education should be dramatically pared back, and that federal loan programs should operate on a break-even basis. This will strike many readers as counter-intuitive, but let’s hope that the article sparks a constructive conversation.

One subject we don’t address in the article is the future of the research mission, which would have taken us much further afield. My own view is that transparency is valuable. Rather than divert the “profits” from undergraduate education to research, we might be better served if the research mission were subsidized explicitly and directly — and in a more focused fashion. There are many students who profit from having instructors who are actively engaged in research, but my suspicion is that these students are outnumbered by those who would profit from attending colleges that devote more resources, prestige, and attention to the instructional mission than is true at present.  

In reading discussions of the higher education sector, I am struck by the lack of detail concerning how resources are actually deployed. That subject has been one of the central concerns of Vance’s scholarly work, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to collaborate with him. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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