Class War, by Patrick S. Roberts

Writing in The American Interest, Patrick Roberts explores the causes and consequences of changing public financing of higher education in Europe.

Class War, by Patrick S. Roberts

This is a hugely important issue as Europe struggles to find a way to do the seemingly impossible: marry mass higher education with retrenchment of the public sector. As Europe takes steps away from higher-education-as-complete-entitlement, national governments face the fundamental question; who should pay for higher education. Much of the benefit of advanced training goes to the individual, so there is a good rationale for expecting the individual who benefits to face a substantial portion of the cost. This is not particularly controversial in the US, but it is quite angst-producing on the other side of the pond.

Roberts cites Why does College Cost so Much as he explains the broader economic forces driving college cost on both sides of the Atlantic.

His final paragraph, which I quote in full, offers a very brief outline of a productive way out of Europe’s difficult transition.

There is a way that European governments can make a virtue out of the necessity of stinging students with new fees. The current troubles represent an opportunity to help forge a new social contract. As enrollments swell, an increasing percentage of society reaps the benefits of higher education, including skills to meet the demands of an information economy and the status imprimatur of a university degree. In return, students who benefit can be expected to contribute toward their education both while at university and later as taxpayers. This compromise neither robs European social democracy of its relative equality nor handicaps European universities relative to their peers around the world. Student protesters portray new fees as a break with the past, but in fact fees may be a bridge to a more equitable future in which university education is open to a wider swath of society.

Don’t Know Much about FAFSA

Marketplace’s Chris Farrell weighs in on the ways the financial aid system’s complexities act as a barrier to lower income students.

Don’t Know Much About FAFSA

Controlled studies of the sort he cites offer a new window on how the complexity of our aid system reduces the chances that students from poorer families succeed in navigating the long process of getting into college.

Is Productivity Growth Possible in Higher Education?

Here is an interesting summary of the productivity debate in higher education. The author is Andrew Kelly of The American Enterprise Institute, and it comes from the June 27th edition of The American.

Are Productivity Gains in Higher Education Possible

I feel free to comment because our book helps form one pole of the argument, according to Kelly.

To summarize the argument very briefly, Kelly contrasts the explainers, like us, who identify the reasons why college cost should be expected to rise more rapidly than the overall inflation rate, against the reformers who think large gains are possible if only better management practices could be implemented at colleges and universities.

My only small beef with the article is that the difference between the camps seems artificial. Those of us who elevate cost disease and other systemic causes for rising cost are not necessarily pessimistic about productivity growth. We do see a more limited scope for change, barring unforeseen tectonic shifts in how people view quality in higher education. The “reformers” often come from what Bob and I refer to as “the dysfunctionality narrative,” in which wasteful practices, prestige games, and gold plating needlessly drive up cost. Bob and I are critics of this dysfunction story, and our evidence convinces us that the scope for waste reduction is much smaller than the “reformers” suppose. Nonetheless, we see plenty of scope for reducing the trajectory of cost increases over time, even if we do not see the “death of cost disease” anywhere on the horizon. Our book does not explore the possibility of meaningful productivity change in any serious or systematic way because that task is a large one that deserves its own book.