Saturday, July 28, 2007

I See Bad Things From *This* Market Approach

NewsAlert quotes from the New York Times:

Should an undergraduate studying business pay more than one studying psychology? Should a journalism degree cost more than one in literature? More and more public universities, confronting rising costs and lagging state support, have decided that the answers may be yes and yes...

Such moves are being driven by the high salaries commanded by professors in certain fields, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of getting state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, university officials say.

And then says:

You wonder why this hasn't happened sooner.

You know I'm all about the market and how the market should decide things, but there are consequences. Since your black/women/gay/chicano studies majors and psychology majors and recreation majors are not going to pay such a fee, more people will go into those fields instead of the more expensive business/engineering/science majors. I'm compelled to ask: do we need more oppressed studies majors, or more business/engineering/science majors? Hmmmmm, tough one.

In the end, though, the market will correct the problem. A glut of oppressed studies and other fuzzy majors graduates will drive down salaries in those fields, while the scarcity of graduates in the more expensive fields will drive up salaries. It's supply and demand--and the market will equalize on its own.

Let's not find ways to perform our own form of social engineering and lower the prices for tougher majors. It may take awhile longer, but the market will resolve this issue in its own way, and far more effectively than we could ever hope to by tinkering.


Anonymous said...

Universities charging differential fees for various majors IS the market at work. Or are you suggesting that institutions of higher learning are not part of the market?

Anyway, The Market is *not* the universal solution to all problems great and small. Turns out there is no such universal solution. The real world is a complex and nuanced place.

Darren said...

As heavily subsidized by government as so many universities are, they're further from the market than many other institutions--still, they'll react as a market will within the confines they're allowed to.

And your straw man argument, which I didn't make, that the market is some kind of universal solution--well, duh, of course it's not. But it often provides a much better solution than governmental social tinkering does.

Ellen K said...

It is already happening in our state. Different majors in different colleges within the university charge fees based on what will keep the college in the black. So we have liberal arts majors that are paying far more to sustain less popular disciplines. I could understand lab fees, such as those for science, art or other classes that require hands on applications, but we are seeing random fees based simply one what course is taught or the college under which it performs. Furthermore, we have this huge movement to make kids graduate in four years, but at the same time colleges are cutting prerequisite teaching positions to pay for the publication stars at the top of the professorial heap. So the students either can't get a section in a course that they need OR they end up in a class taught by grad students, who have never taught before and who often resent the fact that they have to teach. The result is not the kind professor that takes students under his or her wing, but large classes with lackadaisical staff in charge, often teaching what they want rather than what the curriculum demands. So you end up, as in the case of my child's statistics class, with someone using gambling for every example and the students who have never gambled being lost in the shuffle because they have no reference points. As for the four years to graduate, that is a nice theory, but with students who work, and tuition and fees spiraling upward, its a virtual stone of Sisyphus situation. To pay the higher fees the students must work more and longer hours, which means they can't take as many hours, which means they are charged more for the hours they can take and so on and so on and so on. My only solution, pray that your kid, regardless of gender, is an ace athlete.

Anonymous said...

Yet you don't trust consumers to make choices in their own best long-term interests. You foresee the huddled masses making misguided choices, unwittingly corralled by university administrators.

Can consumers not see the added value of the higher-priced majors? Or are we all mere automotons enslaved by the kind of low-price tunnelvision that makes Walmart so successful?

Darren said...

Considering that the more expensive majors are *exactly* the ones that are already in relatively short supply, I see an even shorter supply until the laws of supply and demand correct the imbalance.

What's your point? Are you attacking for the sake of attacking, with nothing real to contribute here? The automaton slave comment is so far afield of what I wrote as to be needlessly inflammatory--and that's twice now you've made these strawman arguments. If that's your deal, it's not welcome here. If it's not, then what do *you* think will be the result of higher costs for certain majors? Do *you* drive a BMW, or a more affordable Camry (as an example)?

allenm said...

Can consumers not see the added value of the higher-priced majors?

Sure. Why do you think all the trendy "studies" departments are withering on the vine? It doesn't take a college degree to know that the only thing a degree in Womyn's studies qualifies you for is to teach Womyn's studies. Even people who shop at Walmart are smart enough to figure that out.

It may take awhile longer, but the market will resolve this issue in its own way, and far more effectively than we could ever hope to by tinkering.

Not much of a feat to figure out what to do - increase productivity of employees so as to reduce head-count, turn a labor-intensive industry into a capital-intensive industry - it's the "how" that stumps me. I have a feeling the gadget you're looking at to read these words, provided you've read this far, is going to be key to solving the problem of the rising cost of education but that insight's hardly unique. What the magic is going to be that makes computers central to an education renaissance is something I just don't know.