You can’t work in higher education without seeing all manner of craziness and inefficiency. Thus it isn’t hard to be at least somewhat sympathetic to education reformers, incremental and radical. That being said, I was waiting for a gag line at the bottom of this piece from the Pope Center about how to save money on education.
Now to be fair to the author, she admits that “extreme reductions are possible, but they may be far in the future.” So she isn’t exactly all that optimistic either about radical savings. But I’m not sure we should even take seriously too-good-to-be true ideas like Rick Perry’s plan for a four-year education that costs $10,000 total (tuition and state/university support combined). Can we really imagine (without making huge leaps of faith about a future world quite different from the one we live in) a rigorous four-year undergraduate degree with intense instruction in the liberal arts and sciences costing that little?
Higher education costs are much higher than necessary, but even the on-line only Western Governors University costs $6,000 a year just for tuition – and that is for the cheapest program in a “university” with serious downsides. Likewise, the ultra-small colleges also touted by the Pope folks are going to cost roughly $10,000 a year. And let’s not take this as a serious alternative to a proper formal education: “UnCollege, which calls itself ‘a social movement changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success,’ lists dozens of free or cheap learning options for those who want education without a degree.”
I think it is much more honest to say that it might not be worth it for some to go to college rather than selling the notion that there are supercheap alternatives out there or on the horizon that aren’t just, well, cheap. And let’s not forget that many might not be suited to the enterprise. There is no such thing as a great, cheap lunch.