Friday, February 04, 2011

Is Higher Education a Public or a Private Good?

This is an interesting opener:

As state legislatures around the country start cutting budgets, they face a puzzler—what is the proper subsidy (if any) for higher education?

The answer to this question may hinge on another: whether higher education can be considered a “public good.” Two writers for the Chronicle of Higher Education recently weighed in on the issue. Sandy Baum, an economist, and Michael McPherson, a former college president, say that education is partly a route to a job and to personal satisfaction and therefore a private good, something that most individuals should pay for themselves. But they argue that it is also a public good—they do not want state legislatures to shirk their responsibility to support education.

I have a rather iconoclastic take on this question, one that I shared recently in an article in Independent Review. Perhaps higher education, as currently provided, is indeed a public good—but a bad one.
The CSU and UC systems have raised tuition each year, and sometimes even mid-year, much higher than the rate of inflation. When they do, students in those systems raise quite the stink--acting as if they're entitled to a low-cost education. I'm willing to listen to arguments that say that California's master plan for education, now 50 years old, could use some adjustments.

1 comment:

maxutils said...

I almost agree with the economists . . .education is a public good in the sense that a better educated workforce benefits us all. The question is, how much education, and to whom? I think most of us would agree that having everyone at least capable of doing high school level work is a good thing; hence we fund it for everyone. After that, though? Some people, having been through college, will contribute mightily back to society through their efforts -- and not just doctors and engineers: authors, teachers, filmmakers etc. all will pay back more. However, someone who skated through high school with a 2.5 and goes on to major in history, likely will not. The trick is to make subsidized higher education available to the brightest and most creative students, and winnow out the chaff. A good start would be to kick out anyone who gets to a UC or CSU campus, and requires remedial classes in either meath or English.