Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Posts Tagged ‘Higher Education Reform

Revisioning Higher Education: Part 1. The Obsolescence of the Modern University

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Antal Strohmayer - The Philosopher's Garden, Athens (1834)

Modern technology has made the brick-and-mortar university in its present form obsolete.

Consider the following. For any given subject (e.g., Psychology 101), there are, in any semester, hundreds of lecturers delivering the course worldwide. The quality of the lecturers will vary considerably. Some will be outstanding and inspiring; some will be bland, uninformed, and unintelligible. Exactly one of these courses will be the best; the rest will be inferior. This means that only a small proportion of students will receive the best possible course. Some will even pay exorbitant sums for the privilege of getting mediocre or bad instruction.

But video and internet technology make it theoretically possible for every student to view the lectures of the best professor!

This produces a kind of paradox:  it is in the best interests of students to, if possible, watch the lectures of the best professor; yet they have paid money to attend inferior lectures and are usually required to do so.   The student truly desirous of quality education would end up watching both lectures!

A second consideration is the monetary value of lectures. We know that, as supply increases, cost goes down — i.e., a  buyers market benefits consumers more than a sellers market. It is inevitable and certain that more and more courses, and ones of increasingly better quality, will be placed online, at lower and lower cost. Already one can buy world-class lectures from The Teaching Company, used, for $50 or less.  Eventually some philanthropist or enlightened government will place university lectures online for free. For a mere $1 million, high-quality lectures for all courses associated with a basic Humanities or Liberal Arts degree could be produced and placed online for fee-less viewing.

At this point, the monetary value of a college lecture would be $0; this would render it absurd for American universities to continue charging students $50k to $100k for a degree.

Would this render the brick and mortar university completely obsolete?  No — it would change its role.  Professors would be freed from the burden of delivering the same lectures year after year.  They could devote their time more to one-on-one mentoring and other types of activity which they and the students would find more fulfilling.

Thus, the role of the university will change.  But to fully understand the nature of this change, we must consider the educational needs of students and society in the coming decades.  This will be the subject of a subsequent post.

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Inflation-Adjusted Tuition + Fees in the UC and CalState Systems from 1965 to 2011

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The chart below shows even more clearly how unfair the current tuition and fees for California public universities are.  It removes the effects of inflation by expressing tuition + fees each year in 2011 dollar equivalents.  This permits direct comparisons across time.

Thus, for example, in 1965, a typical UC resident undergraduate student paid the equivalent of $2000 in today’s dollars.  Now the same student would pay more than $11,000.

Because inflation effects are removed in the chart, the dramatic increase over time reflects only misplaced priorities, greed, irresponsibility, and the callous willingness to place students in debt.

Students and their families should not accept this.  To begin, they should demand an immediate moratorium on all tuition and fee increases.

Written by John Uebersax

December 12, 2011 at 5:37 am

Hyperinflation of Tuition and Fees in the California State University System

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An earlier post demonstrated how badly students at the University of California are being taken advantage of with exorbitant tuition and fees.  The results there showed that, even after adjusting for inflation, UC students today pay more than four times as much in tuition and fees as their parents’ did.  Here we examine the second tier of California’s public higher education system, the California State Universities (CSU), and find that the situation is even worse.  See the figure below.


The red line shows the actual average undergraduate (resident) tuition + fees across CSU campuses, from 1975/76 to 2011/12.

The blue line shows what tuition + fees would be if they increased only because of inflation.  These numbers are calculated based on historical Consumer Price Index data (specifically, the CPI-U, which applies to urban consumers). 1975 is used as the base year.

The ratio of the height of the two lines gives the rip-off index — or how much tuition and fees have hyperinflated relative to general cost of living — for a given year.

For 2011/12, the ripoff index is obtained by dividing actual tuition + fees ($6,519) by what would be expected by inflation alone ($810), giving 8.04.

Interpretation:  after adjusting for inflation, the financial burden on students and their families to pay tuition and fees at CSU today is 8 times greater than in 1975!  Moreover, by this standard, CSU students are being ripped off twice as badly as UC students.

In addition we should note that, unlike their parents, students today may find that their degree has no value in securing a good job.

Some might reply that $6,519 per year isn’t terriby expensive.  To that the response is two-fold.

First, this means that the four-year bill for a CSU diploma is presently over $26,000, which is a hefty amount.

Second, the fact is that, a generation ago, the people of California chose to create a second university system that placed virtually no financial burden on students.  Little by little the commitment to suppy a higher education to every eligible and motivated student eroded.

We need to reassert and live up to the original vision of the California Master Plan for Higher Education:  that some form of higher education ought to be available to all regardless of their economic means, and that academic progress should be limited only by individual proficiency.

Sources:

  • CSU Budget Office

A spreadsheet (.xls) with all data and calculations is available on request.

See also:

College Tuition: Inflation or Hyperinflation?

Hyperinflation of Tuition and Fees in the University of California System

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This chart demonstrates how badly California college students are being ripped off.

The red line shows the actual average undergraduate tuition + fees across University of California campuses, from 1975/76 to 2011/12.

The blue line shows what tuition + fees would be if they increased only because of inflation.  These numbers are calculated based on historical Consumer Price Index data (specifically, the CPI-U, which applies to urban consumers). 1975 is used as the base year.

The ratio of the height of the two lines gives the rip-off index  — or how much tuition and fees hyperinflated relative to general cost of living — for a given year.

For 2011/12, the ripoff index is obtained by dividing actual tuition + fees ($11,064) by what would be expected by inflation alone ($2,506), giving 4.41.

A simple way to interpret this is as follows:  after adjusting for inflation, the financial burden on students and their families to pay tuition and fees at UC is 4.41 times greater than in 1975!

Sources:

See also:
College Tuition: Inflation or Hyperinflation?