How to make college cheaper
Better management would allow American universities to do more with less
Jul 7th 2011 | from the print edition
DEREK BOK, a former president of Harvard, once observed that “universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty: there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.” This is a bit hard on compulsive gamblers and exiled royals. America’s universities have raised their fees five times as fast as inflation over the past 30 years. Student debt in America exceeds credit-card debt. Yet still the universities keep sending begging letters to alumni and philanthropists.
This insatiable appetite for money was bad enough during the boom years. It is truly irritating now that middle-class incomes are stagnant and students are struggling to find good jobs. Hence a flurry of new thinking about higher education. Are universities inevitably expensive? Vance Fried, of Oklahoma State University, recently conducted a fascinating thought experiment, backed up by detailed calculations. Is it possible to provide a first-class undergraduate education for $6,700 a year rather than the $25,900 charged by public research universities or the $51,500 charged by their private peers? He concluded that it is.
在经济景气的年份，这种对金钱贪得无厌的胃口让人厌烦。而在目前中产阶级收入缩水、学生为找一份好工作绞尽脑汁之际，这种胃口简直是让人愤怒。因此也就有了一阵对高等教育的重新思考。大学是不是非要如此昂贵呢？最近，俄克拉荷马州立大学的Vance Fried完成了一个迷人的思维实验（有详细计算支持）。提供第一流的本科教育仅花费6700美元，而非公立研究型大学收取的25900美元或私立研究型大学收取的51500美元，这是否可能？Vance Fried认为答案是肯定的。
Mr Fried shunned easy solutions. He insisted that students should live in residential colleges, just as they do at Harvard and Yale. He did not suggest getting rid of football stadiums (which usually pay for themselves) or scrimping on bed-and-board.
His cost-cutting strategies were as follows. First, separate the funding of teaching and research. Research is a public good, he reasoned, but there is no reason why undergraduates should pay for it. Second, increase the student-teacher ratio. Business and law schools achieve good results with big classes. Why not other colleges? Mr Fried thinks that universities will be able to mix some small classes with big ones even if they have fewer teachers. Third, eliminate or consolidate programmes that attract few students. Fourth, puncture administrative bloat. The cost of administration per student soared by 61% in real terms between 1993 and 2007. Private research universities spend $7,000 a year per student on “administrative support”: not only deans and department heads but also psychologists, counsellors, human-resources implementation managers and so on. That is more than the entire cost of educating a student under Mr Fried’s scheme.
他削减开支的策略如下。第一，将教学和学术研究的资金分离开来。他认为，学术研究是一种公益，不过大学生就应当为此买单毫无道理可言。第二，增加学生与老师人数的比率。商学院和法学院上的是大课，但是收效更佳。其他学院为什么就不能呢？Vance Fried认为，即便学校的老师再少一些，大学也能够将许多小班跟大班混在一起。第三，剔除或者加强那些不能很好吸引学生的课程。第四，削弱行政膨胀。实际上，行政管理的费用在1993年至2007年之间上涨了61%。私立研究型大学一年在每位学生“行政支持”上要花掉7000美元。所谓行政支持，对象不仅有院长、系主任，还有心理学家、辅导员、人事科的执行人员等等。这比Vance Fried方案下培养一位学生的全部费用都要多。
Veteran university-watchers may dismiss Mr Fried’s ideas as pie in the sky. (“The only part of college not mired in tradition is the price,” grumbles Ben Wildavsky, a co-editor of “Reinventing Higher Education”.) Yet some universities are beginning to squeeze costs. The University of Minnesota’s new campus in Rochester has defined teaching as “job one”. 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.
资深大学观察家或许会对Vance Fried的主意不屑一顾，认为那是天方夜谭。（《重塑高等教育》的合著者Ben Wildavsky批评说，大学价钱飙升，其余的东西保持传统，改革阻力很大）。不过，一些大学正在开始挤压成本。 明尼苏达州大学在罗切斯特市的新校区已经将教学定义为“第一工作”。 哈里斯堡科技大学已经废除了终身职位并合并了学术部门。德克萨斯大学的校董们开始谈论10000美元的本科学位。
Mr Fried fails to mention an obvious source of savings. Americans could complete their undergraduate degrees in three years (as is normal elsewhere), instead of four. In practice, most American students take even longer than four years, not least because so many work to pay their tuition. Surprisingly, America’s future chainsaw-wielding corporate titans take a leisurely two years to complete their MBAs; most Europeans need only one.
Shai Reshef, an educational entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, is pioneering an even more radical idea. His University of the People offers free higher education (not counting the few hundred dollars it costs to process applications and mark exams), pitching itself to poor people in America and the rest of the world. The university does this by exploiting three resources: the goodwill of academic volunteers who want to help the poor, the availability of free “courseware” on the internet and the power of social networking. Some 2,000 academic volunteers have designed the courses and given the university some credibility. Tutors direct the students, who so far number 1,000 or so and hail from around the world, to the online courses. They also help to organise them into study groups, and then supervise from afar, dropping in on discussions and marking tests. Mr Reshef pays for incidental expenses with $2m of his own money and donations.
一位受过教育的企业家出身的慈善家Shai Reshef提出了更为激进的观点。他的人民大学提供免费高等教育（过程应用和改卷子的数百美元不算在内），向美国和世界其他地方的穷人推销自己的学校。这所大学利用三种资源来运转：想要帮助穷人的学术志愿者的善意、互联网上可获得的免费“课件”和社交网络。约2000个学术志愿者设计了课程，使大学有了一些信誉。指导老师们将那些迄今已有1000左右来自世界各地的学生带到网络课程。老师们同样帮助学生组织学习小组，在远方监督他们，不时加入探讨、进行考试。Shai Reshef额外支付200万的花费，这些钱来自自己的腰包或者募捐。
There are plenty of questions about Mr Reshef’s project. Can you really build a university on volunteerism and goodwill? Can students really be relied upon to do most of the teaching themselves? Will free courseware remain free? (Newspapers that used to give away content online are now putting up pay barriers.)
Mr Reshef’s university has yet to win accreditation, which could take years. But he can take comfort from Clayton Christensen’s classic book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Mr Christensen points out that innovators often start by offering products that are cheaper, but markedly inferior. Quickly, however, they learn how to improve their offerings. Even if Mr Reshef fails, there are plenty of other disruptive innovators around. In America, one tertiary student in ten already studies exclusively online. One in four does so at least some of the time, and a growing number of bodies, including elite universities, think-tanks, governments and international organisations, are putting first-rate material online.
Shai Reshef的大学目前还在资格鉴定中，这可能会耗时数年。不过，他能够从克莱顿·克里斯坦森的经典大作《创新者的窘境》中获取慰藉。克里斯坦森指出，创新者经常从提供价廉物不美的产品起步。不过，很快他们就学会改进他们的产品。即便Shai Reshef失败了，依然存在许多有破坏性的创新者。在美国，十分之一的受高等教育学生已经完全通过网络学习。四分之一的学生至少在某段时间通过网络学习。不断增加的实体，如精英大学、智囊、政府和国际组织将一流的资料放到网上。
The coming campus rumpus
Sometimes when academics grouse that there is “never enough money”, they are justified—big science costs big bucks. 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. Mr Reshef’s experiment may fail, but there is no doubt that universities need more experimenters. The cost of tuition cannot forever rise faster than students’ ability to pay. Industries that cease to offer value for money sooner or later get shaken up. American universities are ripe for shaking.