Thursday, October 14, 2010

The higher costs of higher education

The costs of some colleges are topping $60,000 an academic year. As Daniel Luzer puts it, that is roughly the cost of a new Jaguar every year. I think we can all agree that such costs are fairly unsustainable. And while not all universities are at this level, almost all schools are seeing costs increasing higher than inflation every year. Which means our entire system of higher education is unsustainable. Basically, colleges have been propped up by two things (1) Money from endowments and donations of the super-rich, both of which are heavily dependent on Wall Street profits. And (2) the student loan industry, aka the US federal government.
I think we as academics need to increasingly pay attention to policy questions about the University. We need to become experts in the financial reform that universities are going to have to go through. Now, some of us already are. But I'm not, and I really don't know many people who are, and yet I know lots of professional academics. But we are clearly working in an industry (can I call it that without offending people?) that cannot continue as it is. If universities and colleges don't change their ways, I have little doubt that at some point the government will step in and regulate in ways that will only seem heavy handed to all of us. As people skilled in research and other tools, we need to be able to step up and be able to argue for concrete changes. I think the recent Charles Taylor debacle is exactly what we need to avoid, but I think it also shows the lack of popular voices interacting with these issues (again, I know there are people out there, I think it needs to be more of us). We need a profession of professors professing concrete and quantifiable economic policy changes in the way universities and colleges are organized and funded.