The Unsustainable Rise in College Costs

The Unsustainable Rise in College Costs


The owner of a publishing house in Lowell, Massachusetts Ground it contains a puzzling but certainly accurate message: that the state’s post-secondary education system is on a “collision course with the unsustainable costs of higher education.”

Inflation, the emergence of new fields of study and the ever-increasing standards of care, not to mention the rising cost of wages, benefits, financial aid, maintenance and technology, make that most colleges and universities are on an unsustainable financial trajectory, unless their spending is offset by new sources of revenue or sustained increases in public aid.

Economist Herbert Simon was right: “If something can’t happen forever, it will stop.” Trends that cannot continue will not.

When I think about the future of higher education as a whole, our choices are these. We can have:

  • More quality.
  • Lower cost.
  • Increased equity.
  • Greater comfort and flexibility.
  • More career-focused.

Choose one.

Of course, institutions with ample resources can select “all of the above.” But a growing number of regional and urban colleges and universities will have to make difficult decisions.

Ours is a rich society and, in theory, we can avoid many difficult decisions. I don’t think this is the world inhabited by most colleges and universities.

In contrast, the institutions that serve most of the nation’s university students reside in highly complex, competitive, and highly political environments and face a mix of conflicting priorities and demands from multiple stakeholders.

None of us should envy the challenges facing leadership or the difficult compensations that campuses have to make.

Chancellors, presidents, rectors and deans need to expand access, achieve much greater equity, increase accessibility, increase completion rates and simultaneously improve employment and postgraduate outcomes in a resourceful context. limited and stubborn resistance to change.

Are there any levers we can and should we pull? Here are a few.

1. Take advantage of the system. A new compendium of essays, Redesign of higher education systems, edited by Jonathan S. Gagliardi and Jason E. Lane (to whom I contributed), argues that public university systems are well positioned to facilitate sustainable change. Multi-campus systems can create tax efficiencies, leverage data and analysis, scale best practices, reduce purchasing and hiring costs, drive successful student initiatives, pressure and advocate politically, and introduce new educational models.

The register of systems to drive innovation and improvement is, as you know, mixed. I can point to cases where systems have not lived up to expectations (e.g. Calbright and my own Institute for Transformational Learning), but also examples of systems that produce significant and significant changes.

New York City University has shown what is possible. His Pathways initiative has made credit transfer between institutions much smoother. Its ASAP program has become a national model for drastically improving the completion rates of community universities. Its new CUNY Online initiative offers the opportunity to address a number of long-standing issues: expanding access to closed courses, splitting income when students take courses outside their home university, coordinating the offer of online courses, create a common marketing platform and combat the high costs of OPM services.

2. Streamline degree itineraries. If our goal is to simply reduce costs, we can do so in many ways. Send more high school graduates to community colleges. Establish asynchronous courses that use low-cost students. Replace full-time faculty with a lower-paid adjunct faculty.

But the easiest way to reduce costs is to reduce the time to degree. There are several ways to do this:

  • Expand advanced placement and college initiation programs.
  • Preliminary Learning Credit Award.
  • Ensure course availability by increasing synchronous and asynchronous online options.
  • Make sure that the transfer credits apply to the generic and grade requirements.
  • Reduce the number and complexity of degree requirements.
  • Expand access to custom seniors.

None of them are a panacea, but together they can speed up completion.

3. To institute learning and learning options integrated in the work. Labor universities (such as Berea and Paul Quinn) and cooperative programs (such as those offered by Drexel and Northeastern) integrate work into the university learning experience. These programs take many forms.

  • Some focus on campus work.
  • Others combine academic courses with paid learning or internships, skills training, mentoring and networking opportunities, and comprehensive academic and professional guidance and support.

The challenge, of course, is how to provide opportunities for learning and work at scale, which helps explain why few colleges and universities have instituted such programs. One substitute is to offer virtual internships and online experiential learning opportunities for groups of students. Companies like Riipen serve as intermediaries between universities and for-profit and non-profit organizations that have business challenges that need to be addressed.

4. Share courses cross-sectionally. The Course Ten initiative of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, which has made available to students about 700 specialized language courses and area studies from the consortium of 14 research universities, could serve as a model that other institutions could emulate. So could Yale’s Harvard CS50 and CPSC 100, which has allowed Yale students to stream or watch archived videos of Harvard professor David Malan’s classes and Harvard students access Yale computer science courses Brian Scassellati and later Benedict Brown.

Now that online learning has become a more accepted practice, the single biggest barrier to sharing courses has fallen. Of course, it is essential that the exchange of courses be used to expand access to specialized courses and not just to reduce programs, cut faculty and reduce costs.

5. Adopt various innovative approaches to teaching and learning. While at the University of Houston, a group of us taught an integrated first-year experience that included U.S. history, American literature, art, American rhetoric and composition, and educational technology. Participating faculty included, along with professors of literature and history, the director of education at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and a specialist in learning, instructional design, and visualization.

This integrated approach, which allowed students to meet multiple generic requirements, either on two business days or on a full-day Saturday, made it easier for students to move commutes to work, family, and academic responsibilities. In addition to writing standard assignments, each student also created digital projects, such as a video story, and provided input to a virtual encyclopedia and a collaborative website.

But like many highly motivated teacher initiatives, this approach was never institutionalized or scaled or funded well, and eventually faded. Lesson Learned: Relying on individual innovators, who inevitably move, retire, or change interests, is not enough.

The alternative is to integrate the new educational models into the institution’s curriculum. Models already exist to emulate.

  • Learning communities, major goals and other courses taught in teams and groups. Learning communities, major goals, and cluster courses share some common elements. They are interdisciplinary and thematically or professionally focused and are organized around student cohorts. Typically, these approach an issue from a synergistic and integrated perspective. At their best, these units do more than provide instructions. They also offer counseling, mentoring, complementary instruction, co-curricular learning opportunities, and a sense of belonging to a supportive community.
  • Research communities. How about creating communities that collaborate in reflection and critical discourse on timely issues, such as the pandemic or systemic forms of inequality? A useful model is the cMOOC, which, unlike the better-known xMOOC, focuses on research, exploration, and knowledge generation, rather than on the transmission of knowledge. A research community leverages the distributed experience of a campus and transforms all participants into researchers.
  • Scalable courses. Reacting to the Past by Barnard Professor Mark C. Carnes includes immersive role-playing and active learning games based on classic texts from the history of ideas, politics, and science. The course provides an example of how to bring student learning to scale. Since the sessions are student-led, with the instructor as the advisor and facilitator, these classes can be much larger than a standard small lecture course.
    Introductory online psychology introductory classes in 2 UT, Toronto and Texas, show that it is possible to offer a high quality educational experience to 2,000 or more students at a time. Combining daily quizzes, chat groups, discussions, podiums provided by alumni and guest lecturers, the UT Austin version narrowed the achievement gaps, improved academic performance, and increased student satisfaction compared to the format. in-person conference standard.
  • Experiential learning requirements. Not all learning has to be done in traditional classroom or classroom formats. Creative spaces, study courses, field- and community-based learning experiences, and of course credit-based research and supervised internships offer approaches that many undergraduate students find very engaging and engaging. which do not necessarily have to be limited in size.

The future of higher education will ultimately depend on public policy options, especially on how much the state and federal governments will provide to students in terms of financial aid and institutions through direct support and, indirectly, through scholarships. and contracts. In the meantime, however, individual campuses can take steps that will at the same time enhance students’ learning experience, reduce time for graduation, and contribute to a stronger sense of community.

This will require institutions to think outside the box, to visualize forms of education that do not fit exclusively into the paradigm of the conference, the seminar, the laboratory.

Take my word for it: we can do it if we try.

Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.



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