OPEC in Regalia
September 15, 2008 Education

I’ve long argued that it is possible. Now Vance Fried shows us how:

Today, Vance has a nice piece in INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION where he claims you can offer a high quality education for $7,376 a year –total cost. The article is a teaser for the longer (about 40 page) study that CCAP is producing and will release in the next week or so.

How does Vance do it? Universities that are inexpensive cannot be all things to all people, and Vance sharply limits the number of majors and the number of courses taught. A proliferation of electives is one reason instructional costs are high. Vance hires (in his mind) relatively few teachers, gives them reasonable teaching loads, but has pretty large classes –low student-teacher ratios wreak havoc with costs. Vance has a lean and mean administrative structure. He uses technology intelligently. And so on.

As Vance himself admits, others might not like the type of school he has concocted from his imagination, and might prefer different course emphases, etc. But a school built from the ground up that focuses just on fundamentals can educate a student in a reasonably quality fashion for $10,000 or less per student a year –less than half of what a typical public university spends. Over half the cost of higher education goes for various things that do not directly impact on learning –low teaching loads for research, underutilized facilities related to the peculiarities of the academic calendar, huge expenses related to “student services” and extracurricular activities and public relations specialists and diversity coordinators –most of which could be eliminated. Vance, by the way, believes some extracurricular activities are part of college life, and even budgets for relatively low cost teams in some sports. If the University of Phoenix can educate kids for $10,000 or less a year, so can a traditional university that lacks all the costly trappings of the modern day academy.

I’m not interested in discussing the details. He gets lots right … such as the fact that a typical university spends well more than half of its total expenditures per student on things only marginally related to education. Throw in the fact that at large universities the undergraduates heavily subsidize the graduate programs, and the fact that students are consuming lots of non-educational related amenities, and many other factors, we find that even “affordable” public colleges and universities spend well over $20,000 per year educating each student. Their tuition is low because they are heavily subsidized.

Some private schools are spending $100,000 per year per student or more! The point being, if what students and parents wanted is a low-cost, high-quality undergraduate education where students learn to think, read criticially, communicate effectively, etc. it can certainly be done for less than $10,000 per year in spending.

But of course, the dirty little secret is that the current university accrediting system is nothing more than OPEC in Regalia. Suppose I wanted to start such a college right here in Rochester. Does anyone seriously believe that the fine folks at RIT and U of Rochester and Nazareth and St. John Fisher, etc. will be happy about it, particulalry when I will offer a higher quality experience for 1/5 their price? Do you KNOW who would be sitting on the committee to accredit my new school?

Here is more.

"4" Comments
  1. I thought this was interesting and related:

    This is back in 1995, the UofR was in the New York Times for increasing spending per student (which they apparently payed for by reducing the number of faculty). Back then it costed a student $25,460 a year for tuition, room, board, etc. That seems very small today, as now it is over twice that amount, but the article (on the second page) is making the point that this was very expensive! Its kind of ironic that we are paying more then ever for college educations at the same time as this guy is showing that it is unnecessary. What do you think would happen if they made ‘extra’ costs optional (for example if you want to play football you have to play some percentage of the costs of football equipment, repairs on the stadium, etc.) I think it would be more fair to the body of the school that doesn’t play football, but a policy like that would seriously discourage anyone from playing sports as the costs would be astronomical. Then again, I have to wonder how much I myself am shelling out each year for sports and activities I am not involved in.

  2. “Throw in the fact that at large universities the undergraduates heavily subsidize the graduate programs…”
    Right now I kinda enjoy that fact. It definately isn’t fair, though. But I do wonder how much of my funding is actually generate from my research (I think about none) or the research of my advisors. Would it be possible to have a graduate program operating solely off of the research of the students?

  3. Pingback: The $7,376 University Redux | The Unbroken Window

  4. It could be that those who decide where the funding goes are or once were those who benefited from funding for research. Its the status quo, they once did or do benefit from it, so they continue the policy. I’m really ignorant as to how that money is actually allocated or how that system works though, so I can’t really form an opinion.

    A graduate program operating only on the research of students…that would really be something. I doubt that professors would ever, ever go for it though (it kind of makes them seem unnecessary, and would probably lower their paycheck)

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