Shrinking Academic Bloat

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

According to Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard, “universities share one characteristic with compulsive and exiled royalty; there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.” However, this might be doing a disservice to “compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty,” says The Economist, which noted in a recent Schumpeter column that “America’s universities have raised their fees five times as fast as inflation in the past 30 years; student debt in America exceeds credit card debt – and yet, colleges and universities are still sending begging letters to alums.”
It’s one thing to do this during good times – but during periods of economic distress, the message that bloated and fiscally irresponsible universities want more of your cash is irritating, to say the least.

But the uncomfortable spotlight placed on higher education’s spending habits has already resulted in some positive trends. In fact, Dr. Vance Fried, a business professor from Oklahoma State University, has suggested providing “a first-class undergraduate education for $6,700 a year instead of the average $25,900 charged by public research universities, or the $51,000 charged by their private peers.

Professor Fried’s cost-cutting strategies include “separating the funding of teaching and research,” “increasing the student-teacher ratio,” and eliminating programs that don’t attract enough students in order to “puncture administrative bloat.”

He explained that the hefty annual “administrative support” fee of $7,000 that provides each student with a bevy of counselors, human resources, and implementation managers is more than the entire cost of a student’s tuition, under his plan.            While spendaholics may dismiss these ideas, some schools are already starting to deleverage their expenses. “The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has abolished tenure and merged academic departments. Regents at the University of Texas are talking about a $10,000 undergraduate degree.” And a new campus at the U. of Minnesota has proclaimed that teaching is “job one.”

One educational entrepreneur named Shai Reshef has already launched an online educational facility called the University of the People that offers FREE higher education to poor people in the U.S. and around the world by using free “courseware” and the power of social networking.

Stay tuned.

Deborah Lambert writes the Squeaky Chalk column for Accuracy in Academia.

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