Lower cost college benefits families

Published on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 22:12 - Written by

In the minds of the liberal elites, it’s meant to be an insult. But the article about “The Wal-Mart-ization of higher education” in Salon magazine merely shows how out of touch the elites are.

Americans like Wal-Mart, and its lower prices have increased the standard of living for average American families. We can only hope the trend of lower costs in college yields the same results.

The gist of the article is that college professors aren’t being paid as much as they were in the past. And adjunct (non-tenured) professors taking more and more of the teaching load.

“In the past thirty-eight years, the percentage of professors holding tenure-track positions has been cut nearly in half,” Salon reports. “Full-time tenure-stream professors went from 45.1 percent of America’s professoriate in 1975 to only 24.1 percent in 2011, with only one in six (16.7 percent) professors now possessing tenure. In the meantime, the percentage of professors teaching off the tenure track increased from 54.8 percent in 1975 to 76 percent in 2011.”

That’s wrong – at least according to Salon – because higher education has been flush with cash.

“While it is true that college and university revenue from state and local funds has been declining for several decades — even more so with the Great Recession of 2007–2009 and its aftermath — the academy has hardly been a distressed industry,” Salon explains. “Though the percentage of college and university revenue coming from state and local funds dropped from 35 percent in the 1975–76 academic year to 27.2 percent in 2000–2001, private grants and gifts grew from 4.8 percent to 9.1 percent, with overall revenue more than doubling from $141 billion to $293 billion (in constant 2005) dollars.”

But there has been a “distressed industry” here — college students. They’re the beneficiaries of lower college costs (the direct result of the changing nature of academia).

That’s why parents, students and policy makers are desperately searching for lower-cost alternatives to traditional academia.

In Texas, a number of state universities have responded to Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a “$10,000 college degree.” Such a goal is possible, if costs are cut. And that has academics nervous.

“The idea of lowering the cost of educating students raises quality concerns for many in higher education, particularly faculty members at Texas universities,” reports the journal Inside Higher Ed. “Costs are typically reduced by bringing in adjunct faculty members, increasing class sizes, reducing student support services, and adopting online programs, all of which could reduce the quality of the education offered, they say.”

That’s a threat to tenure-track professors, Salon says, and to the humanities majors who earn similar degrees with tenure-track career goals.

Wal-Mart is vilified in the media for crowding out mom-and-pop stores, but it does so by keeping costs and prices down. If it has a better business model, offers equivalent or better merchandise and greater selection, then of course consumers are going to choose it.

And if higher education adopts a more competitive model, it’s going to be students and families who benefit.