Perspectives

Universities Must Reform to Stay Relevant and Affordable Says Notable Economist

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Dr. Richard Vedder, Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington, DC, notes that the costs of higher education have increased markedly in recent years while the value of a college degree may be diminishing.

To counteract these trends, he says that colleges and universities must implement reforms and modernize. But, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at Ohio University notes that reform is an alien concept to many administrators and faculty in high education. In short, universities are reluctant to change and when change occurs it is at the slowest of glacial paces.

Dr. Vedder notes that the costs of higher education have doubled since the mid- 1990s yet family incomes have not kept pace. He also cites that the cost of college has increased 16.5% between 2006 and 2014.

He also claims that nearly 40 million Americans have college debt which collectively equals about $1.3 trillion dollars.

Yet, the gap between the earning power of a college graduate and a non-graduate is narrowing. In 2014, the earning differential between a college graduate and a high school graduate fell 11 percent for men and 19.7 percent for women ages 25-34, according to the College Board.

To stay relevant, Dr. Vedder says colleges and universities must reform and modernize but many are reluctant to do so. New and cheaper educational delivery systems must be employed and efforts to curtail costs must become a priority. Technology must be more widely used.

He cites Ohio’s proposed cap on textbook costs at $300 per year per student as an example of curtailing fees. Any costs over that amount would be borne by the institutions – thereby, giving administrative financial incentives to rethink the use of traditional text books.

He thinks greater use of online courses and non-traditional teaching methods would cut costs and perhaps even make the educational experience more relevant to the real professional world.

Finally, Dr. Vedder criticizes the “countryclubization” of the college living experience for students as a factor inordinately driving up higher education costs. He cites that many institutions are more concerned with the social amenities offered students in their living environments than the quality of their educational experience.