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Walker's Next Move
Taking On Higher Ed
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  • wigwag

    Everything that Professor Mead says in this essay is exactly on target. If Scott Walker is truly advocating these kinds of changes, it’s not only conservative Republicans who should be supporting him; intelligent liberal Democrats should too. Most of the proposals advocated by the Democratic Party and the GOP to help the middle class will accomplish absolutely nothing. To help the middle class you need to fix healthcare and higher education. To fix higher education, college tuition needs to be a fraction of what it is now; that means the people who provide it (college and university faculty) need to be paid less to do more. In addition, the grotesque bloat in the form of academic administrators needs to be eliminated. If Scott Walker has figured this out; God bless Scott Walker.

    As good as these proposals are; they don’t go far enough. The real trick to dramatically reducing higher education costs while improving the quality of education is to disintermediate the higher education experience. The important players in higher education are the students, who are the consumers of higher education and the teachers, who are the purveyors of higher education. Colleges and universities are little more than middlemen who add very little of value but add a lot in terms of bureaucracy and cost. To revolutionize higher education, the middleman needs to be excised in much the same way that music companies that stood in between listeners and artists have been marginalized.

    Here’s my recommendation; the American Interest should start its own university without walls. Mead, Garfinkle, Berger and Marusic should be the lead faculty and the rest of the faculty could be recruited from the American Interest’s editorial board. Obviously American Interest University wouldn’t be offering a major in art history. Only students with an interest in political science, history or international relations need apply and the entire course list for a four year program could be outlined in advance; there would be no electives. Admit 200 students at a tuition of $10,000 per year and the total revenue for the endeavor would be $2 million which could be split evenly between the teachers. The administrative costs would be minimal; the rental of a lecture hall and some secretarial support that AI probably already has to keep track of student tuition payments and academic transcripts.

    There’s no need for dormitories; students would find their own housing. There’s no need for athletic facilities; students could join a health club, There’s no need for a meal plan; that’s what fast food restaurants are for. Presumably the American Interest University would not be developing speech codes, developing sexual harassment protocols or monitoring whether students have provided written consent before they engage in sexual relations.

    What’s in it for Mead, Garfinkle, Berger and Marusic and the rest of the American interest faculty? Practically all of the tuition money would flow into their pockets and not be siphoned off by a grotesquely inefficient bureaucracy known as a university. Why should a star professor like Mead allow Bard to siphon off tuition money when he’s the one providing most of the value to Bard students. Why should Berger (assuming he still lectures every now and then) allow Boston University to make a killing when its his lectures students clamor to see? Even at a relatively low tuition, the endeavor should generate enough money to make it well worth the while of the AI faculty members to provide a couple of lectures a week and a little office time with students.

    This is a model that could be recapitulated over and over again. Students with an interest in music could be educated by a faculty impaneled by a local symphony orchestra; students with an interest in biology could be educated by a faculty impaneled by a pharmaceutical company, a hospital, an independent laboratory or a museum. Students interested in economics could be educated by a faculty put together by a think tank, a bank or a hedge fund.

    Disintermediate higher education and watch a million flowers bloom Can you imagine a four year program that cost a total of $40,000 where your mentors and educators would be the likes of Mead, Garfinkle, etc.? Even I would go back to college for that.

    • Anthony

      WigWag, clear and pragmatic goals proposed as well as disintermediation model to achieve them. Yet, you and I know such an endeavor has marginal chance unless external societal upheaval forces institutional reformation. More importantly, you’re attacking interests of upper middle income demographic who will fight to the death to protect their status sinecures (hard earned they will tell you). Opposition to mild 529 tax changes will seem miniscule in comparison. A

      • wigwag

        You are right of course but I would point out the following. Music publishing companies were owned by some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world including SONY, Time Warner, Fox, etc. Despite the influence of these companies, their influence has been decimated by technological change. Practically no one (with the possible exception of me) pays for music any more. Music publishing has gone from being hugely profitable to a financial disaster in practically no time flat. The same thing is in the process of happening to book publishing. Superstar authors like Stephen King are already self-publishing. Amazon provides an extremely popular forum for new authors to self-pubish without working with traditional publishing companies. How long ago was it that powerful financial companies like Merrill Lynch or Smith Barney dominated the equity markets? Does anyone use a full service broker any more?

        I think Professor Mead is right; the traditional model of higher education is broken and its destroying the financial prospects of middle class people. The proposals made by Scott Walker are good as far as they go, but even greater disruptive change is desperately needed in higher education. This disruptive change can take many different forms. I think the model I suggested is well worth experimenting with. The luminaries who run the American Interest should think about it.

        If they do, I think I’m entitled to a cut; don’t you think so, Anthony?

        • Anthony

          Certainly a consultant percentage! And yes music and publishing (how could I forget) as well as financial brokers mentioned were each impacted by creative destruction via technological change; but, I think each group may have had more entrepreneurial members who, though influential in respective sectors, recognized changing market. The group we write about may be too invested in idea of credentialed accomplishment and reflected status to intuit that an endangered institutional model has outlived its past due date – what else is there for many of them WigWag.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Jerry Falwell already did the independent right wing university thing, as well as some others. I wish Ralph Nader would have done one the other direction 40 years ago when he was filled with both personal energy and a knack for seeing through smoke . Turning the present model upside down and shaking it some may be a fine idea, but idolizing conservatism at the university level is not. Too much dissemination of “dis-information” would be required in order vanquish everyone who ever had a liberal thought.

      For instance, what is modern economics without a candid discussion of why the wealth gap is widening in so many places on earth? What is modern American political science without a candid discussion of why the anti-abortion and pro-gun issues have permitted the American Legislative Exchange Council to pollute half or more of the legislatures on behalf of corporate clients?

      • wigwag

        I certainly don’t want to idolize conservatives or vanquish everyone who ever had a liberal thought (though much of what masquerades as progressivism at American universities is profoundly illiberal).

        Nothing that I’ve suggested is inspired by institutions like Bob Jones University (the racist institution visited by Ronald Reagan and numerous other GOP politicians).

        The system I’ve recommended could be utilized by sponsors of every political persuasion and no political persuasion.

        Don’t you agree that college tuition costs are bankrupting middle class families? How do you propose to reduce college tuition without making higher education dramatically more productive?

        • FriendlyGoat

          I just don’t see the TAI guys as the suitable base for founding anything beyond a magazine or website. This place is interesting for us older people to visit, but I wouldn’t want a child or grandchild steeped in it.

          I have believed for a long time that a combination of people like Sal Khan and Mark Zuckerburg are going to turn (some of) college upside down eventually. The online tools exist and all that is really needed is an accreditation substitute that employers learn to trust and embrace.

  • Curious Mayhem

    It’s overdue, and I hope it sets off an avalanche. I expect a multiyear shriek of hysteria aided and abetted by the “news” media.

    The problem with costs is not professors. It’s the explosion of non-academic professional staff, who run everything from offices of diversity and sustainability, to the disgraceful campus sexual conduct offices, to development (a euphemism for lavish fundraising). Add to that the campus overbuilding epidemic and the money-losing athletic programs, and you have the cost crisis. Don’t let self-serving complaints about state budget cuts distract you.

    Apart from suppression of free speech, the destruction of standards, and riding roughshod over the rule of law, the cost explosion is the main legacy of 25 years of political correctness and the post-liberal university. It’s ruined higher education, both in itself, and as an inexpensive vehicle for personal and social advancement.

  • Arkeygeezer

    The movement toward online education promises to reduce the per student cost dramatically. There are a number of colleges and universities offering courses on line. You can also get courses offered by universities in other countries. Continuing education for professionals and other vocations is offered on-line.

    The problem limiting the growth of on-line education is the accreditation monopolies. If the government is to truly reform the system, it should start with the accreditation process. Once that problem is solved, technology will resolve most of the rest of the problems.

    • Curious Mayhem

      I agree about accreditation monopolies. But technology is not a panacea. The problem needs a frontal assault.

      Someday, in Harvard Square, they’ll miss Larry Summers. He was a nice guy. The coming reform won’t be nice.

  • Andrew Allison

    “Starve the beast!”, i.e. cut off the easy (student loan and State funding) money and let the Universities decide how to get by.

    • Fat_Man

      In 1204 Pope Innocent III commissioned Arnaud (or Arnau) Amalric (died 1225), a Cistercian abbot, papal legate and inquisitor and tasked Amalric with the Albigensian Crusade. Cistercian friar, Caesar of Heisterbach wrote that, Amalric, when asked by a Crusader how to distinguish the Cathars from the Catholics, answered:

      “Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”

      “Kill everybody! Surely the Lord knows who are his”.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Scott Walker, as I understand it, is trying to fix a $2 billion budget problem in Wisconsin. He also is seeking to gain some more street cred with his particular political supporters by finding a new avenue for criticizing “liberals”. He probably also is seeking to prove that his personal lack of a college degree is precisely what qualifies him to diagnose what is wrong with colleges.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Scott Walker is the leading candidate now with the Republican base. Jeb Bush just spit the middle class’s face, by saying illegal immigrants deserve to be fast tracked to citizenship. 1 in 5 jobs in America are now occupied by immigrants, every job created since 2009 has been taken by an immigrant, there is over 1 million new legal immigrants per year and at least that number of illegal immigrants. The percentage of working age American’s with a job is at a 40 year low, you have to go back to the time women stopped being housewives and entered the work force. Middle class wages have stagnated for 35 years and legal and illegal immigration is the reason why.

  • JR

    Especially in places steeped in Left dogma of identity politics, the majority of people who get degrees in social sciences massively overpay for that degree in terms of their earning potential. The problem has been papered over for decades by increased student loans, but as that gravy train is coming to an end it is time to look at the cost side of the ledger. It happened in Detroit, it is happening in Greece, it will happen in American academy.

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