Richard K. Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University whom I recently interviewed for a news story about a report from Georgetown U. that predicts employers will face a huge shortage of college grads to fill positions by 2018, has a decidedly unorthodox take on what ails higher education in today’s America.
Vedder is cofounder of the Center for College Productivity and Affordability, a nonprofit that advocates for a decidedly conservative approach to how colleges should operate. Vedder and his colleagues argue, in a series of editorials that have appeared in various magazines and newspapers which are available on the organization’s website www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org , that government funding (in the forms of Pell Grants, state subsidies to public colleges and universities, etc) has allowed academia to avoid the market-driven reforms that other industry sectors have been forced to undergo. Colleges continue to operate without regard to efficiency or expediency because they can, write Vedder et al.
Low-interest student loans, Pell Grants, and the like have the effect of shielding students and their parents from the true costs of college, they write. This translates into less market-driven pressure on colleges to aggressively adopt reforms (such as more online classes, fewer staff, greater use of technology to improve efficiency etc) that would make them more affordable.
Vedder argues for replacing state subsidies to colleges with direct vouchers to students. He also argues in favor of for-profit schools, such as DeVry University, saying that their continued growth and expansion will force nonprofit, public institutions such as the University of Michigan to become more market-oriented and to even, perhaps, privatize themselves.
I find Vedder’s views a bit extreme, but interesting nonetheless. Many students today graduate with a crippling debt load, and often go on to accrue more debt in grad school because they feel that’s their only route to a decent livelihood. And colleges can count on plenty more coming their way becasue we’ve drummed into kids that they must, MUST go to college if they want a decent job. Something’s askew here–in other countries, like Germany, it is NOT necessary to go to college in order to earn a decent income, and many parents often overlook the fact that it’s not true in this country, either. Plumbers and electricians, for example, make decent wages and their jobs can’t be outsourced. This is an area that’s due for a lot more examination, and viewpoints such as Vedder’s, radical though they may be, definitely add to the conversation.