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Like the Dinosaurs, Traditional Colleges Should Begin to Worry

October 10, 2011

Today’s features a story about doubts about the business model at traditional colleges. That model entails:

…relying on high tuition costs and student aid paying for expensive instruction and residential life on beautiful campuses — is sustainable over the long term. They have also begun to question whether the education they offer, with small classes, relatively rigid schedules, limited course and major offerings, and intense academic rigor, is going to continue to appeal to students.

One asks, like the dinosaurs who wondered what was happening only as they began to die, “Why so late?”

A product priced above the ability of consumers to pay is not a product that is going to have a market. Institutions with endowments of $1 billion-plus that can sustain operations for a century without financial worries are the exception. Most non-profit institutions would be lucky to survive ten years, and some, even less, without substantial financing from fundraising.

Of course, costs are not the only concern. Religious colleges like Colorado Christian, Liberty University, Regent, Grove City and others do well, even though they are not low cost institutions.

American secular culture is a “problem” for many Americans with deep religious convictions and they are fleeing America’s public schools and colleges at rates that should cause concern to all Americans. reports that at Sewanee, the University of the South,

…the vice chancellor (the equivalent of president at most institutions) … announced in February that the university would cut tuition by 10 percent and shift focus from merit aid to need-based aid.

That’s a start, but what if the market you serve demands a reduction of tuition, fees, room and board costs by 50%?

That’s a good question that some have begun to answer with thinking about what has to be done to restructure higher education in order to achieve those cuts.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity publishes an archive of essays on college costs. And the example of the University of Phoenix is there for anyone to see. With no overbuilt campuses, Phoenix operates as efficiently as possible in leased offices and students may take courses solely online or in hybrid classroom/Internet mode. Experiential learning credits are granted and students work during the day and attend college classes at night.

What if your market is college age students who want to enjoy a collegiate environment? In a series of essays on just that topic, I argue that traditional colleges, and especially large public universities, should restrict admission to Juniors and Seniors and prefer admission to students who have completed two years of college at community colleges or online.

The online aspect could easily be facilitated by state governments simply by granting authorization to college level courses already offered at Internet-based institutions or by creating their own online systems.

What’s holding up higher education reform? The list is large and includes tenured, entrenched faculty, administrators living in the past, state legislators ignorant of what an “education” entails, alumni living in the past, students who listen to their parents and not their inner selves, taxpayers who think that more investments in education will produce results, U.S. government bureaucrats with an agenda unrelated to what education really is and, of course, accreditation associations that protect their members from competition. In other words, resistance to reform is formidable.
The problem of academic “accreditation” can be easily solved simply by following the advice of Charles Miller, a wealthy and influential Texas businessman with an abiding interest in higher education. Miller served on the Spelling Commission and learned from that experience that “accreditation” is the main problem standing in the way of real reform.
I commented on Miller’’s proposals in a three-part series published at the Yorktown Patriot in 2007.

It’s too bad that Miller—and even Spellings—have departed the American scene. Especially, we should listen to Charles Miller who figured it out when it was too late. As I remark in one of the above essay, Miller is the personification of the Dutch maxim, “We get too old fast and too smart late.”

Many who learn when they are young that college is not for them simply don’t go to college. The Trustees of thousands of colleges are populated by wealthy drop outs who never earned a degree, but knew how to make a living.

That actually has merit, as I argue in an essay titled “Why Go to College?” There is no reason to go to a four year college to earn a degree when you can “Rent the Professors” you need to learn what you want to learn.

For example, if you want to start your own business, what do you need? You don’t need a BA in Business Administration, you need experience working in a real business and instruction in fundamental subjects to enable you to raise the financing you need to start a business, manage and develop it properly, conduct your own research and consumer surveys, manage the books, and market your products. Instead of taking sixty three credit courses, why not specialize in five courses under the direction of an instructor who know what he’s talking about.

Stay tuned for launch of “Rent the Professors” at this Internet site.

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