There is an awful lot of talk about the higher education bubble. Mostly though, I think it is confined to a certain set of people that have been looking at the way the cost of college has out stripped inflation in the last 30 years. My experience was very similar to the writer of this note to the Instapundit. I guess it should be, as I went to a small private college at the same time. This post over at Marginal Revolution is interesting and the articles linked to are also worth reading. As usual, the comments at MR are also worth wading through.
I characterize the higher education business as working much the same as the entertainment industry works. The talent, or faculty, are generally the highest paid and yet have the least responsibility for bringing in revenue. The faculty will naturally dispute my last assertion with vigor. But any of you that have worked in admissions, enrollment or development know exactly what I’m talking about. We don’t have the protection of tenure and have to meet targets or we get to look for new work.
I am frustrated daily by the restrictions placed upon my work effort. I can’t make a deal. I can’t offer a prospective student that is experienced and skilled in a particular area a waiver of one or more classes. The school can’t have a properly designed compensation plan as there are federal restricitons on paying commissions to recruiters. And there is the accreditation bottleneck. Nothing can change unless it meets with the vague and unknowable requirements of accreditation.
There are serious problems with accreditation. It is cartel enforcement at its most obvious. Why the feds allow this to happen…(I can’t go off into those weeds in this post, I’ll have to try and stay on topic). Take a look at the board of directors for the AACSB. They are almost exclusively the deans of AACSB accredited business schools. So if you are Directional U and think that having AACSB accreditation will help your competitive standing within the B school universe, you have to go and get permission from the deans of the schools you want to compete against! I can’t believe this is allowed to exist. (But then again, the lawyers and doctors do the same.) That this type of cartel enforcement is not vigorously busted up in this country is one of the great mysteries of our political culture. It should be an issue that unites the left that is genuinely looking out for the little guy and also the righty small business owner that can’t stand the legal advantages afforded large enterprises. These accrediting bodies stand in the way of the development of lower cost eduction alternatives.
I believe that lower cost education will eventually be provided by a for profit institution. At the very least the lower cost education will be provided by a green field non-profit. For any of you that want to complain about the current roster of for profits, you’ll have to convince me that they have been set up to do anything other than take advantage of the current federal financial aid system.
So, if I were the dean of my business school, here is what I would do: I would find a legal organization, maybe the ACLU, FIRE, or Pacific Legal, somebody’s out there and sue the AACSB for illegal restraint of trade. I might get a little religious college involved to also sue one of the regional accrediting bodies. Since I’m not a lawyer, maybe a student will have to sue as they are the ones directly effected by the accreditation nonsense. Second, I would fire all of my tenured faculty. I don’t know how much this would cost since I have never read a faculty contract. Finally, I would institute my new model.
As I said above, I believe colleges currently work along an entertainment industry model. My new model for colleges would be a video game of software model. Ownership of content will be king. Whoever produces the best video content for online delivery, the best online tutoring system and the most customizeable curriculum will be the winner. The faculty I would hire under this model would work like the gamers and coders of video games and software. You might have to set up a royalty structure for the really good producers, but it will be key for the university to retain ownership of the course content. Imagine capturing one of two things: either you have the lion’s share of the online students, or you are selling/renting your courses to those schools that are selling the consumption aspect of higher education. (The consumption aspect is four years on a beautiful campus with fraternity/sorority houses and a nationally ranked football team. There is no reason to have actual faculty at theses schools. The required learning can be done online).
There is also a need for certification. Currently the system awards credentials for accruing enough inputs (credit hours with “academically qualified” faculty). The future will be measuring output (test of competency).
There are, of course, going to be exceptions to the future I envision. There will still be schools that exist becasue what they are really selling is access to the student body. Those exclusive clubs will always be with us.
So, there you have it. My idea of how to prepare your college or university for the coming changes to higher education. I look forward to learning of your opinion.