While there are considerable barriers to lowering the price of U.S. higher education, there are also abundant opportunities for significant cost containment through radically innovative approaches, concluded a collection of experts at a daylong AEI research conference.
The first set of panelists made the case for reform — soaring student loan debt and tuition with dwindling state budgets — and examined the possibility of enacting this change at traditional institutions. While existing institutions can take some steps toward accomplishing this, the potential for reform is likely small. Paul LeBlanc of the Southern New Hampshire University emphasized that there has been very little conversation about disruptive innovation on the higher education reform front.
The second set of panelists responded by zeroing-in on the organizations offering more transformative change. Two panels highlighted a number of emerging companies that are using the Internet to offer extremely cheap or even free college courses to hundreds of thousands of students worldwide, stressing that one day, it might be possible for students to earn a degree by taking courses from multiple providers rather than from a single university. Michael Staton of Inigral discussed at length some companies that are even exploring how to simulate non-academic aspects of the "college experience" such as forging a social network or demonstrating talent to future employers.
Ultimately, federal and state policy will have to change to keep up with the times. The current higher education regulatory model is built on a singular, restrictive conceptualization of college as a four-year residential experience. Yet, today, Burck Smith of StraighterLine pointed out, with a vastly different demographic attending college in a world full of many more postsecondary options, the notion of "college" is rapidly evolving.
It’s no secret that college has become more expensive. Between 1982 and 2007, the cost of tuition and fees for U.S. colleges and universities has increased by more than 400 percent, far outpacing the rate of inflation and median incomes. The recent recession has exacerbated the college cost problem as institutions have raised tuition to make up for lost state funding. Meanwhile, the new completion agenda has called on American higher education to produce more postsecondary credentials in order to meet employer demand. Accomplishing these goals without breaking the bank will require new ideas on how to dramatically reduce the cost of providing postsecondary education.
Andrew P. Kelly of AEI and Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation have commissioned eleven pieces of new research that unearth promising approaches and obstacles to cost containment as well as the implications for state and federal policy. Can the leaders of existing institutions reengineer business models and leverage technology to reduce costs? What is the key to replicating success stories? Moving beyond the traditional system, how can unbundling the various components of a college degree help to dramatically reduce costs? What changes must be made to traditional approaches to regulation, financing and quality control in order to make new pathways possible?
At this AEI event, the authors will present their findings and discuss them with other experts in the field.
Please find the papers from this event at the bottom of this page.