The University is Broken

When my parents went to college in the 60s four years of private higher education cost around 5k. When I went in the nineties the same degree ran 100k. Today, it’s around 225k. When my two-year old daughter is ready to go off to school, it’s liable to be 500k

For those of you saying serves those elitist rights, let’s look at the much cheaper option of a public state university. What was once practically free was up to 25k in the nineties. It’s now in the neighborhood of 100k, which puts it on track to be around 200-250k when my kids are ready to matriculate. That is still an ungodly amount of money for a piece of paper that no longer guartuntees anything except that your tuition loans are now due.

Then there’s the curious case of the disappearing school year. Over the years summers have started earlier and ended later. Many schools shut down for a full month for winter break. Others have invented something called fall break that shuts school down in October.  Apparently spring break was making the school year asymmetrical.

My parents used to attend classes on Saturday. By the time I went to college it was pretty easy to avoid Friday classes and possible to limit classes to three days a week and still graduate on time. Today the two-day weekend has become the exception to the rule. The weekend starts Thursday night and many students can spend a mere 12 or 15 hours a week in class and honestly say they’re taking a full course load. By the time my daughter is in college I can only assume classes will be restricted to every second Monday on months with 30 days except June and September which are part of summer break.

No doubt some will insist the college they work for, teach at, send their kids to or attend is not like that. Fine, these are generalizations. And yes, community colleges remain an inexpensive alternative and probably will continue to remain so for the foreseeable future. But by and large kids are paying more for less education then they used to. Which is particularly worrisome given the economy students are graduating into.

I have an idea on how to fix it. Or more exactly, I have two people who should have some ideas on how to fix it. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Both smart, both successful, both dropped out of Harvard because it didn’t offer then what they need. I’m not sure what, if anything would of. And I bet they didn’t know at the time. But I suspect if you caught either of those guys at the right moment, in the right mood, they’d complete the sentence “I would have stuck around if…”

And that would be the basis for a very interesting conversation on how to create a new kind of college. Gates University probably wouldn’t be a four-year college on a campus with professional professors. Zuckerberg Tech probably wouldn’t have sports teams, or a student body government, or ever classes as we think of them today.

But something makes me think these institutions would do a lot better job of getting our best and brightest and even our mediocre and moderately bright for life after school for a lot less money. Hell, they might even come up with a model that puts money in student’s pockets. Imagine a school where you could not just come up with new ideas or practice writing a business plan but actually get to pitch them to real investors.

You might argue, those guys didn’t need college, why would they want to start one. Vanity. There is no better way to leave a legacy than to create an institution of higher learning. It’s better than a highway, an airport, or even a museum. It’s almost as good as a theme park.

So if anyone reading this knows Bill or Mark send them my way. I happen to run a very interesting, unconventional, real world experience based school inside an ad agency.

This entry was posted in Business. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The University is Broken

  1. Yours Truly says:

    I’m a college professor and I largely agree with these points. However, I think you are falling into the same trap the rest of our stupid country is falling into w/r/t higher education and how crappy it’s becoming, which is to blame the school itself somehow–the concept of higher education as practiced in America. When in actuality it is the fault of a much more insidious and widespread phenomenon, which is what I call the “MBA-ization” of America. Colleges used to be run by teachers; now they are run by MBAs. Now they are run on “business models” and they have to increase their profits every year just like Exxon. This is obviously no way to think of education, but it’s a hard ball to stop rolling. In the University of California system–once the cheapest, best public education you could get in America–there has been a steady increase in admin hires accompanying a steady decrease in professor hires and professor salaries. They fire professors so that they can keep paying admin salaries that are often in the six figure zone. The president of the UC, Mark Yudoff, was quoted in a New York Times interview as saying he didn’t really know what his job was; he didn’t think education was that important; and he didn’t think any of this was a big deal. He also shamed the reporter for using a “big word” and implied that the reporter was an elitist. Mark Yudoff makes $500,000 a year, and has a $10,000 PER MONTH housing allowance. He’s not a teacher; he’s never been a teacher. This is a major problem. How did it happen??

    But schools are not going to get better until we stop treating them like capitalist business enterprises.

  2. Andrew Dickson says:

    You make an excellent point. The “MBA-ization” of America seems like it’s hitting a lot of industries. I’m reminded of my time working as a set dresser on “The Fugitive”, the short-lived TV series based on the movie that was at the time the most expensive television show ever created. Why? There were something like 11 producers. None of which ever bothered to leave Los Angeles to see how the shooting was going in Seattle.

    But back to the discussion, I hear you loud and clear on the need for colleges and Universities to be run like schools and not corporations.

    So are there any schools out there that are examples of how higher education can stress the education part and not the higher price part? Or anyone championing the need?

    Does this article about Antioch college offer one?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *