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Andrew Rosen: We have a fundamental misallocation of resources in higher ed.  We spend hundreds of billions of dollars; the vast bulk of it is going to people who already have advantages, who already have so much, and yet we’re leaving people out of the system. We’re leaving people at the front door of community colleges unable to get in because they don’t have the funding.  

If somebody is graduated from Cornell, that means they must be pretty smart if they got in, they got exposed to some pretty good professors, they graduated, that must mean this is a capable person.  And I guess, you know, there’s some merit to it, but there’s a couple of problems.  One, schools actually don’t compete with one another on the basis of learning outcomes. They compete with each other on prestige.  Better students are more valuable to universities because they enhance the prestige of those universities. That’s a problem because universities are not just creating great educational environments, they’re building resorts to attract students.  So you’ll find on college campuses today climbing walls and gardens and incredible dining options and so on, which have nothing to do with education, and yet are very costly to taxpayers.

I describe in Change.edu what I call a "learning playbook."  It, in my mind, is the appropriate next step for American higher education.  Right now we have traditional universities that are focused on prestige often to the exclusion or certainly not necessarily aligned with educational outcomes.  We’ve got community colleges that are focused on access.  That is, they want to attract as many students as possible.  And they’ve done a wonderful job at that, but the academic outcomes are coming up short.  And you’ve got private sector schools like the ones that Kaplan offers that are trying to develop a return on investment for students as well as for their own shareholders. I think that that actually is most closely aligned with educational outcomes because private sector institutions are not focused on things like prestige or access, they’re focused on getting students jobs that can improve their lives because that’s what will attract more students.  

In the long run though, I think that we want all of our institutions to be focused on this learning playbook.  And that focus is on, one, learning outcomes.  How much do students actually learn when they come?  Two, accessibility.  Many of our universities take pride in how many students they reject, not how many students they accept.  We need to have a higher ed system that’s more inclusive and that brings the wonderful fruits of so many of our institutions to a broader audience.  Third, accountability.  That is, we’re not measuring how much students are actually learning at institutions, and every institution should be accountable for how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s going to take, what kind of outcome students can expect.   And fourth, we should be incentivizing affordability.  Prices have been going up in higher ed much faster than the rate of inflation and part of that is because we have a regulatory structure that incentivizes universities to increase prices rather than decrease prices, which is sort of the norm in the rest of the economy because there’s not a price competition element in most of higher ed.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

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