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The Coming Brave New World of Higher Education

October 19, 2010

The Obama Administration’s socialist assault on for-profit higher education has hidden from public view underlying forces that promise to destroy traditional college education and create a brave new world of higher education opportunity.

While the U.S. Department of Education waxes enthusiastic about government tuition assistance as an Entitlement backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, other economic forces threaten the existence of every traditional bricks and mortar college and university operating today.

For more than a decade, the American economy has been challenged to replace forms of employment lost to foreign countries with lower standards of living. An economic recession continues with no sign of significant improvement, commodity prices are beginning to show inflationary gains, the federal deficit has reached levels that will lower American standards of living for three generations and there is universal agreement that the American party system no longer reflects the consent of the governed.

Paying no heed, American colleges, public and non-profit, operate on a business model inherited from medieval Europe. Suddenly, because the middle classes are no longer able to borrow for college against the value of their primary residences, a college education is out of reach.

The U.S. government’s response is to finance increases in student loan programs. Today the following maximum subsidized Title IV loans are available to qualifying students:

  • First-Year Undergraduate (Freshman) $3,500
  • Second-Year Undergraduate (Sophomore) $4,500
  • Third-Year and Beyond Undergraduate (Junior, Senior) $5,500
  • Preparatory Coursework (for enrollment in an undergraduate program) $2,625
  • Preparatory Coursework (for enrollment in a graduate program) $5,500
  • Graduate Students, $8,500

Beyond these subsidized loans, qualifying students may take unsubsidized federal loans up to these maximum limits:

  • First-Year Undergraduate (Freshman) $6,000
  • Second-Year Undergraduate (Sophomore) $6,000
  • Third-Year and Beyond Undergraduate (Junior, Senior) $7,000
  • Graduate Students, $12,000

A Freshman student today, drawing assistance from U.S. government tuition loan programs, has $9,500 to spend on his or her first year of college. This chart published by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity shows comparative costs of a private and public university education.

By comparison, Yorktown University’s tuition costs for the Associate of Arts degree are $275 per credit. A student completing thirty academic credits (ten courses) will pay tuition of $8,250 just below the $9,500 in maximum tuition assistance provided by Title IV.

Only at public community colleges and a few second tier state colleges in every state are tuition levels anywhere near these maximum federal tuition loan amounts, which requires that students at higher-priced private and public colleges and universities take out commercial loans, be supported by family members, or draw upon college savings accounts or Trusts.

The response of traditional colleges to this crisis in college education costs recalls Marie Antoinette’s response to Parisian rioters: “Let them eat cake.” It is only a matter of time before the heads of our higher education Establishment will be separated from their bodies. Or, to use a contemporary analogy, like a crack in the fuselage of a commercial airliner, only time and air pressure dictate when a crash will occur.

There are solutions to avert the coming collapse of American higher education–radical solutions—that can save traditional education from the consequences of generations of benign neglect, but like Aristotle’s advice to the tyrant who becomes a king, traditional higher education will no longer operate on the model of traditional education.

The current crisis requires that each state use one state college or university to do everything possible to cut overhead, extraneous costs, and drop the cost of tuition, room and board to the maximum levels of Title IV assistance.

All other public colleges and universities in the state will be freed to operate without state subsidies, and allowed to survive or fail without state intervention.

The state colleges choosing to operate with guarantees of one hundred percent state support will undergo a transformation making them into “senior” colleges operating with blended classrooms of Internet and residential seminars. Intra-mural athletics and physical education will be supported, but all intercollegiate sports will be eliminated.

All general education courses that make up the first two years of college and can be commoditized will be offered via the Internet free of charge to all state residents, including Junior and Senior high school students. Shocking though this must sound, there really is no difference between an introductory statistics course at Harvard and one at Slippery Rock State in Pennsylvania.

In ten years, state higher education reforms will allow high school students on a college track to have completed at least thirty credits of college level work via the Internet—in high school–and those participating public colleges will only accept students who meet all the requirements of true Sophomores.

No tuition, room and board costs will be greater than the maximum Title IV limits and the difference between total costs and income will be paid from the general fund, and savings from subsidies not paid to non-participating public colleges and universities.

By eliminating “Freshman” year and transforming traditional bricks and mortar public institutions into senior colleges, students will come to their studies with a better sense of what they want to accomplish and can be expected to earn a college degree on an accelerated two year schedule.

Within those two remaining years of college level work, only those classes that cannot be blended into an Internet/seminar model, will be offered in traditional classroom settings. Students will complete courses within eight weeks, not fourteen or sixteen.

Instructional faculty will be selected on the basis of ability to teach in this blended Internet/classroom setting and perform the instructional services on term contracts. The contracts of non participating faculty will be bought out and faculty will be released to find employment elsewhere. Administrative staff will be capped at a maximum percentage of per capita enrollments.

With the implementation of changes in the public high school curriculum, within fifteen years, participating public institutions will admit only Junior level students.

A “public” education system that is truly public, free and open to any state resident will have been created.

All other public colleges and universities will operate along traditional lines—without subsidies– and will survive or fail, based on their ability to meet market demand.

That demand, as today, will largely serve a preponderance of children of upper middle class families willing to pay tuition, room and board costs at public institutions in excess of $20,000 a year.

The working poor, the disadvantaged and those seeking to get ahead with their lives and who abjure the condition of prolonged adolescence Americans impose on younger citizens will seek out educational opportunity in a new world of learning, largely free of debt and only two years out of high school.

That brave new world will release into the economy a new cohort of disciplined, well educated, workers able to enter the marketplace of gainful employment two to five years ahead of students of equivalent age. Other, less disciplined students, willing to pay extravagant costs over five to seven years for a country club environment laced with sport extravaganzas will enter the workforce burdened by debt and three to five years older than those already gainfully employed.

That is the brave new world of higher education coming in your lifetime.

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