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.