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The Price-Point Model of Higher Education

November 5, 2013

Not only does the consumer-driven model of education contain many holes (i.e. students are not consumers), but the Wal-mart-ish, Aldi-like, low-price producer driven model also holds forth numerous problems. Here are few salient passages from the article:

Thus, the $10,000 B.A.—which, again, does not include room, board, books, transportation, or child care for the many college students who are single parents—is largely a chimera. But even if it did exist, what kind of message does it send students, or potential employers, that there is now another stratification of college degree: elite private, public flagship, public regional, and now public regional cut-rate? And besides, if a college education can be given for $10,000, why isn’t it available to everyone?

But students don’t whine about attending required courses because they’re too smart for them; they complain because learning takes work, and that work isn’t just passing a proficiency test. A semester-long course is not just the (temporary) accumulation of (dubious) knowledge or skills—it’s a journey in which, if it’s a good class, students come out different than they were when they started. They not only learn course material, but also develop as thinkers, readers, writers, mathematicians, experimenters, useful humans. I guess you have to hand it to the competency model for giving up entirely on the prospect of growing as a person and instead just offering diplomas you can buy.

A real solution to the spiraling costs of college would be to take actual substantive measures to bring tuition down for everyone. For example, institutions could simply deflate the artificially inflated “status symbol” sticker price of education. Here’s another revolutionary idea (I am being sarcastic; almost everyone agrees with me): Perhaps universities should cease paying administrators, with ever-more-ludicrous job titles (“executive dean”), like they’re Fortune 500 bigwigs. Finally, enough already with the resort-style dormitories and “amenities.” Eighteen-year-olds are delighted enough to be living away from home; they do not need a stadium-seated media room on every floor, especially because they will just cover it in vomit.

In sum, the price-point model is not the solution to cost-problem in higher education. It’s a non-standard, irrational market. The market is driven by the ever subjective standard of prestige perception. Furthermore, if one is willing to set aside prestige as a price factor, it’s still true that a quality liberal arts education holds forth immense personal and financial rewards. These variables mean that higher education is a public good, one that should be regulated for the betterment of society at large. In democratic societies, where equality is (supposed to be) highly valued, then access and excellence must be weighted in relation to the common good. Democratic education demands both high quality and affordable prices, two things that can never be balanced in a capitalist society predicated on exchange value. – TL

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