the market for a college education is highly distorted by government subsidies to the schools, direct student aid, and cheap government loans. These factors artificially inflate demand, and create a sizable wedge between what the consumers (students) pay for the product and the income taken in by the producers of that product (the universities). The inevitable result is skyrocketing prices completely out of line with true consumer demand.
There are lots of reasons the analysis is wrong, including:
- The consumers of public higher education are not the students, but the public, who pay for having better educated students.
- The mission of public universities is not just undergraduate education, but the discovery and communication of knowledge. So the blog post’s sniffy attitude toward “duplicative and little-sought after degree programs or “research centers” is certainly inappropriate and misunderstands the character of a university and the value of diverse approaches within it.
- There is enormous inequality in families’ ability to pay for education, which in turn has enormous effects on future earnings. (It does not follow that this is the principal reason for education, but it is an important effect.) So subjecting undergraduate education to pure market forces would without question make college a mechanism of reproducing and exacerbating economic inequality instead of (however meagerly) mitigating it. Indeed, this is one area that even conservatives should prefer interference in the “market,” since severe economic limits to access would further thwart the possibility of hard work and talent to reap economic rewards in the marketplace.
- I’m sure there are more fallacies in the approach–add on!
Credit for this formulation goes to Barbara Entwisle, among the most effective advocates I’ve heard for the broad research agenda of the university.
Actually I would argue that higher lifetime wages are not a particularly important goal of public higher education. If that were the primary goal, a more thoroughly debt-based approach to financing education, more like home mortgages, would be in order, since it would allow the beneficiaries to borrow against the future products of current education. But if the primary goal is (as I believe) insuring that the public’s children are exposed to a broad intellectual environment to improve their performance in all parts of their lives (as citizens, critics, consumers, producers, artists, parents, etc.), the public has an interest in this beyond the provision of classroom slots.