36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

June 12, 2014

Prontra Kevin: more on tuition costs

Filed under: Politics, Schooled!, Science! — Tony Demchak @ 4:54 am

Yes, prontra is a portmanteau of pro and contra, as I am both in favor of and against some of Kevin’s propositions.

The subsidies I described are going to the universities, not to the students, in exchange for a reduction in tuition. More like agricultural subsidies in this sense. I think his cause #3 is responding to the system, not to me, but I wanted to emphasize that part of my solution.

For Kevin’s causes, 1 and 1a I obviously agree with. Item 2 I agree to with reservations. Item 3 makes sense, but again, reservations.

I like the free market as much as anyone else. Probably a bit less than Kevin, but much more than the average guy. I do not like the idea of kicking accreditation out of the process entirely because not all degrees are created equally. If you can get a medical degree anywhere, you get hordes of Dr. Nicks flooding the streets. Yes, hospitals wouldn’t hire them (but what if they were really, really cheap?), but clinics? Maybe they would. The process could use fine tuning, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. A private institution for accreditation could work, but I’d have to see more evidence before I’d agree to it.

The argument with subsidies I would buy entirely if the student was making the buying decision. In some cases, he is (this applies to Kevin and I), but in many cases, he is not. This feeds into your other points — parents think college = more $ (which is true, on the average), college = more educated people (which is… sort of true — throw enough knowledge at somebody and some of it is bound to stick), and that college = better people (complete bullshit). I don’t think the problem is that students are overvaluing certain degrees, but that parents are.

I like Kevin’s solutions, but I see them as long term decisions. The culture needs to change. This will not happen overnight. However, among Kevin’s continued references to elementary education majors (I’ll take a liberty here and say he is railing not against the institution, but the absurdly low requirements and ease of graduations) lies a problem. How many people, gainfully employed in this profession, who may have done so out of a desire to be blacked out for the better part of four years, are going to tell our next generation that they made a mistake? If we are employing teachers who do not want to teach but just need a paycheck (the Miss Hoovers), all we do is see the cycle repeat.

Fewer high school graduates means fewer college entrants. Agreed, and it’s a direct solution to the problem, and we all know people who graduated high school who had no business doing so. Yet, if they’re bombarded by media that tells them blue collar work is worthless, regardless of pay, parents will scream and holler that their child’s future is being destroyed when those evil teachers flunk the little moron. So, before we make high school harder, the culture needs to change first.

So, set changing the culture aside as a long term ideal solution, but one we can’t fix right now. I’ve already talked about accreditation and subsidies. My solutions, as presented earlier, were focused on reducing debt burdens to students, but Kevin’s right that we absolutely need to address the roots of the cost. As Kevin correctly pointed out, the problem is one of demand. I’ll give you a concrete example. The largest university in the Russian Federation, Moscow State University, has about 40,000 students – and about 22,000 are undergraduates. (Note: the English version of the site incorrectly claims there are 7000 undergraduates; this is a typo.) The rest are graduate students or students pursuing “refresher courses,” or short term learning. The number of graduate students in Russia is slightly inflated because they have two doctorates, as in the British system: the second doctorate is roughly the equivalent of tenure in the United States. There are a couple of other universities with about that level of enrollment — St. Petersburg State is close, with around 35,000 students — but most tend to be quite small.

Compare this with the US. Kevin and I went to a university of around 10,000 students. About 80% are undergraduates, but again, consider the inflation rate of Russian graduate students. We also have to consider that the US has roughly double the population of Russia. Still, contrast this to the largest universities in the US. There are multiple universities with more undergraduates — just undergraduates — than Moscow State has students.

So, the best way to cut costs, as Kevin suggested, is to cut demand. As we can see, there is a lot of demand. How can we do this effectively and realistically?

1) Make it harder to get into college. The United States is the only country I know of that does not have entrance exams to pass to get into a university. Even a private university like the University of Dayton only required an application, an application fee, my scores from high school, and an essay. The ACT and SAT are not entrance exams and have their own problems: I’m talking about mandated exams to get into a university, determined by that university and the department they’re applying for. This should replace the entire entry system as it exists now. You pass the exam, you’re in. You don’t, try again next year. No other criteria for entry, apart from a high school diploma.

2) Force students to choose a major. The longer you go without a major in a university, the worse off you are. I can buy using year one to figure out what you want to do — I’d even argue for a relatively standardized sample of courses freshman year — but after that, you need to decide. No open option bullshit that lasts until the junior or even senior year. Changing the major is fine — go nuts — but pick one and stick with it.

3) Eliminate generic majors. This includes “General Studies” and “Liberal Arts.” Interdisciplinary is fine, but generic is not.

4) Promote associate’s degrees. This is a good compromise for making getting into college harder. An associate’s degree for a specific skill is a much better solution than a bachelor’s degree in “general studies.”

All of these, I think, would reduce demand in the short term, and if we work to change the culture too, we end up with a better education system at more affordable rates, which leads to a better America. Fuck yeah.


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1 Comment »

  1. I’ll keep my final words briefish…for me…

    Agricultural subsidies is one of the stupidest things Congress has ever done. They distort the marketplace and leave farmers dependent upon bureaucrats to make a living. Remember the old joke: “How do you starve a farmer? Weld his mailbox shut.” Expanding these subsidies to another industry would be a terrible idea.

    For more evidence on private accreditation institutions, check some of them out. We already have a number of private groups which perform accreditation; even the regional accreditation groups tend to be private, non-profit organizations. But there is a list of “officially recognized” accreditation organizations which keeps newcomers out.

    I rail against “education” as a college. I don’t believe schools of education should exist as colleges; rather, in my ideal world, teachers go down one of a couple paths: either graduate from a university with a real degree and then go through a one-year training on pedagogical technique, or go to a two-year vocational school which would train potential teachers on how to perform their jobs.

    I am generally against entrance exams. I’m actually even against requiring a diploma or GED to go to college (especially given modern high schools, which punish intelligent people). Instead, I like the old University of Chicago economics program style: anybody (literally anybody) can enroll, but they have to take extremely difficult introductory courses which weed out all but the most serious of students. In practice, it’s similar to entrance exams, but I think a lot more fair to people who aren’t great test-takers but can absorb knowledge. I get that not all schools could do this for all majors, but it shocks me that almost no other school does anything like this—and Chicago even stopped.

    Comment by Kevin Feasel — June 13, 2014 @ 8:52 am

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