Friday, November 05, 2010

Know your battles

Let me start off, like a good academic, with a caveat. I read the political cartoonist Chuck Asay pretty regularly, and while this in no way implies that I agree with the man on a regular basis, it means that I find him interesting, entertaining, and at least occasionally thought-provoking.

But, today. . .

Setting aside the "Obama and colleges are dirty Marxists" overtones, there's a huge, lazy error in this comic.

Colleges and universities already exist in the free market. They do compete for students, and they're well aware that the cost of tuition is a big part of that competition. (Ask anyone who works in an admission office.) Tuition is, however, far from the only consideration, and it's well-established that students and parents are eager to pay a premium for prestige, in large part because the labor market, on the whole, pays a premium for graduates with degrees from those colleges, even though there's little or no evidence that the quality of education is any better—meaning that paying this premium is an economically rational decision. God bless free markets!

Do you know what are the two biggest factors behind increasing tuition at public universities? 1. The increasing cost of health care, and 2. state-level divestment from higher education. That's right! When the state stops subsidizing its universities, you pay market price for your education!


A. Colleges are already free-market entities. There is no way that "free-marketizing" them will lower tuition because the only way to make them more beholden to market forces than they already are would be to eliminate state subsidies from public universities. Which would raise tuition.

B. The single fastest, most effective way to lower tuition would be to take the cost of employee health care out of education. Maybe through something like national single-payer health care. (Or by making all instructors "part-time" adjuncts, which many schools are well on their way to doing. Good for costs. Not so great for quality of education. But then we've already established that quality of education doesn't matter if you have a prestigious school's name on your degree.)

Complaining about rising tuition is fair. Blaming the rise on Marxism is idiotic. In this case, talking about federal involvement in student loans is a non sequitur.

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