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Imagine you live in a small state (or any state for that matter) such as Rhode Island. You are worried about the college choices that you  have. Imagine this being a world where you are not permitted to shop for a college choice in another state, even if you live closer to a school in Massachusetts or Connecticut, or prefer the type of institutions that are operating there. Below would be a list of the college choices you have:

ri-colleges2.GIF

Not bad if you want to be a hairdresser or wish to drive a tractor trailer or restore yachts. But what if you wanted a Bible college? Or what if you wanted to attend aviation school? Or what if you wanted a small liberal arts college with a particular tradition? And what if the cost of these schools in Rhode Island did not meet your preferences? And what if you decide (or cannot) not to attend these schools?

Now, a brilliant man comes along and offers you two ways forward. The first way would be for the U.S. Government to introduce “competitition” with these Rhode Island schools by opening up the University of the United States. It might not have to be in DC, they may be “smart” enough to open locations in (politically important) various states or multiple locations in a state. Good luck little Rhode Island! This school will be “managed” by a board of trustees that examines best practices in education, that decides which academic programs are wasteful, and which are important and valuable (using a Quality Adjusted Education Years metric perhaps). You do not have to enroll in this school, of course, if you like the options you currently have in Rhode Island, then you are certainly free to continue exploiting them.

The second way would be to forget about opening up the U of the USA, but rather it would open up all of the U’s in the USA to you. Here is an incomplete list. The actual choices you would have would exceed 4,000. None of them might be perfect right now. There might be rules and customs which make the current batch behave anti-competitively, and less “optimally” than “we” desire them to be. But they come in all shapes, colors, patterns, and sizes and at a variety of different price levels. You, the customer, get to choose what “best practices” are for you. You, the customer, get to choose how much or how little to spend on educating yourself. If you are a chronically bad student or have chronically little income, there are even many schools that would be happy to have you- with or without government subsidies attached. I don’t recall there being a recission problem in education, do you? So you won’t have to worry about “being dropped” from college altogether if for some reason it doesn’t work out at one of your preferred places of learning. And then there is always a radical idea … you can use libraries, non-accredited agencies, websites, DVDs, and a variety of other sources to secure some education as well.

My dear Rhode Island resident – which would you choose? Would you choose to have the U of the USA introduce “competition” into your little market in Rhode Island, or would you prefer to choose among an additional 4,000 institutions – with the prospect of that increased competition disciplining their behavior in a way that forces them to serve your needs better? Even if the U of the USA is a “perfect” institution by some “objective” measure, I doubt many would choose option 1. Perhaps I am wrong. But does not option 2 seem like an “obvious” first step to reform?

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