Fixing higher education

Clinical teaching
Image by paukrus via Flickr

I read with interest a recent editorial in The Economist, titled “How to make college cheaper”. It is an interesting read, and talks about a researcher’s thought experiment around how to offer an education currently priced at $26,000 annually for the much more reasonable price of $6,700.

Partly because I teach at one of the local universities, I’ve thought quite a bit about some of what I perceive to be “wrong” with our universities and have written previously about it here. I was quite heartened in reading through the Economist article to see that it generally lines up with much of my thinking and with what I wrote about in my earlier blog entry. In particular, the Economist article states in closing:

“But higher education is nevertheless marred by inefficiencies and skewed incentives. Students pay to be taught, but their professors are rewarded almost entirely for research. Mr. Fried’s calculations suggest that one can slash costs without sacrificing much that students value…. The cost of tuition cannot forever rise faster than student’s ability to pay. Industries that cease to offer value for money sonner or later get shaken up. American universities are ripe for shaking.”

I have a number of good friends that are tenured professors at major Canadian universities. When I shared with them my thinking from my earlier blog entry about universities being akin to monopolies that could well be dramatically disrupted in the coming decade, the general feedback I received was polite, and generally dismissive — in other words, a general state of denial. Which, in my experiences, is not unlike most company middle and senior management ranks respond a few years prior to their companies having near-death experiences or failing outright.

My sense (and hope) is that the market for “higher education” is definitely in for some serious restructuring over the coming years…

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