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California College Shakes Up Higher Ed

Santa Monica College is trying something new: a two-tiered pricing system separating its most popular courses from all the others. The community college is charging a premium for classes with the highest demand, pricing them at $180 per credit hour rather than the usual $36, the New York Times reports.

Predictably, this has a number of people upset, especially because it makes the most desirable courses less accessible to poor students. Yet the increasingly dire financial situation has left the school with few options.

Economic forces are inexorably driving more and more experiments like these in higher education. Some of these new programs will be good; some will be bad. But out of all this, something more efficient will emerge: more choices for students, at more reasonable prices. Santa Monica College may or may not have the right answer, but trying out new ideas like this one is how schools will keep themselves relevant in a post-blue world.

That said, Via Meadia sees how pricing programs like Santa Monica’s, even if they turn out to be good ideas in some ways, might be bad news in other ways—especially for humanities programs. The current university model is full of cross subsidies: Business schools support English departments, medical programs subsidize arts programs, and so on. Schemes like Santa Monica’s will put pressure on each educational “tub” to stand on its own bottom.

This will challenge the classic concept of the university, but that challenge is beginning to look inevitable. America’s current educational model conflates two different things: training and education. The difference between them can be fuzzy, but they are not identical. Training needs to be much cheaper, more convenient and more widely available. Education is important, but will have to be provided in new and less costly ways.

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  • Corlyss

    Great! That might cut down on the degrees in basket weaving and philosophy of tanning.

  • California Professor

    The arithmetic does not add up. If students are paying $180/hr, a 3 credit course with 40 students will yield over $20,000 in tuition revenue. Hiring an adjunct to teach this course will cost under $5000. There is no additional overhead involved since the classrooms are already there, and offering these additional classes will probably lower other costs (since students will be graduating sooner with fewer subsidized classes). Why is SMCC making a profit from these students?

  • Mrs. Davis

    In this division training is what is necessary to gain an employable skill and education is what is necessary to be a well rounded person. Training will come down in cost. Education may not see price declines, except to the extent that the country club amenities are eliminated.

    Amherst, Williams and Haverford, Harvard, Stanford and Yale will be doing what they have been at pretty much the same price for those who can afford it or have sufficient merit. The signal value of the top 20 colleges and top 20 universities is just too valuable.

    Education will return to be the exclusive luxury it was prior to WWII. Unless someone finds a way to provide the life long learning that is talked about so much and provided so little.

  • alex scipio

    CA (I’m a resident) is just using college tuition to get-around the difficulties in raising taxes & fees to support public sector unions.

    If CA moves money from education (UC, CSU, Community COlleges) to pay public sector bennies that they are unable to pay absent tax or fee increases (which now both require a 2/3 vote), then they get to pay their benefactors in the public unions, and the bill goes to those trying to improve their lives.

    It’s probably illegal to divert at least some of this money as they do, and it’s aboslutely immoral to rob those most intersted in their future to pay those least-able to compete in a post-industrial world (union members), but that’s what the Dems running this corrupt state have chosen to do. And yet… and yet .. students will continue to vote for those most-adept at destroying their futures…..

  • Jim.

    So are they going to use this money to expand their offerings of these courses such that the fees drop again? Or are they going to allow other campuses to compete in their market space with lower-priced classes?

    The full mechanism for self-correction must be in place for themrket to actually work, here.

  • Alex Weiner

    Schools like Umich, NYU, Berkley, Harvard etc… already do this. The (intra-collegiate political) trick they use is to break up the undergrad and grad programs into different ‘schools’ that charge different rates per credit. Very different than Bard where everything is the same price no matter who the professor is or how many students there are.

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