Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nonlinear Cost Scaling in Higher Ed

Here is my quick response to a Delta Cost Project report described on the Chronicle of Higher Ed at this link:
We need to distinguish between short- and long-term trends. If we don't do this, we run the risk of prescribing overreactive fixes that act to the detriment of what is best about American higher ed. And despite all the gloom and doom, there are many very good aspects about the "traditional" American college experience.

Tuition inflation, administrative bloat, and blur of the academic mission etc. all started *long* before the mortgage crisis of '08. Yes, the crisis certainly shone harsher light on the cost problems, but higher ed was already well embarked on several unsustainable trends more than a decade ago. 

The "college for all" theme rose to the level of national politics in the 1990s, but surprise: we've come to discover that the politicians don't know anything about the real expense of scaling the college experience that they tout. They assume more enrollment equals more tuition revenue and that's that. If only it were so! That would imply simple, linear cost scaling. Meanwhile, our schools have had to pour huge investments into the facilities (dorms, dining halls, classrooms etc), and personnel, and a *nonlinear* surge of expense was inevitable.

For better or for worse, we have to remember that much of our higher ed apparatus was designed to serve a select few, rather than to scale up in the way that our state and national politicians have urge. We *can* scale up to increase enrollment, but it will cost...

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