대학의 등록금이 소득증가와 인플레율을 앞질러 급격하게 인상됨으로서 학생과 학부모가 비명을 지르고 허리가 휘는 일은 미국도 마찬가지이다. 2008년 금융위기 이후 정부의 재정적자와 예산감축으로 인해 대부분의 주립대학은 대학예산의 부족분을 등록금 인상으로 메우고 있는 실정이다. 이에 따라 파격적이고 혁신적인 대학의 구조조정을 통해 등록금을 동결하거나 인하하고자 하는 방안이 활발히 논의되고 있다.
다음의 글에서 가장 주목할 만한 사항은 대학예산에서 연구와 강의 관련 예산을 분리하여 운영하자는 주문이다. 대학의 연구활동은 공공성이 있으므로 정부나 기업이 비용을 지원해야 하며, 학부 학생의 등록금이 교수의 연구활동을 지원하는데 사용되어서는 안 된다는 것이다. 강의 시간만큼의 봉급을 교수는 받아야 한다는 주장이다. 한국과 미국을 막론하고 교수는 강의 이외의 온갖 개인적인 강의와 토론회 참석, 기고활동 등에 대해서도 대학 측으로부터 보상을 받는 것이 현실이다.
대학운영의 혁신방안으로서 첨단 교육장비와 기술을 이용하여 학생당 교수의 비율을 늘릴 필요도 있다. 또한 대학의 교육비용에서 큰 비중을 차지하고 있는 행정비용을 대폭적으로 감축할 것을 제안하고 있다.
더욱 파격적인 제안으로서 미래의 대학은 자원봉사자가 대폭적으로 참여하여 온라인상에 강의자료를 올리고 가르치며, 시험을 보자는 것이다. 시행착오를 거치면서 온라인의 대학교육의 방식이 다듬어진다면 현행 대학시스템의 훌륭한 대안이 될 수 있을 것이라 한다.
아래의 제안에서 일부의 제안은 다분히 비현실적인 것으로 간주되겠지만, 슘페터의 말처럼 모든 제도의 개선은 혁신적인 아이디어에서 나온다는 사실을 명심할 필요가 있을 것이다.
HOW TO MAKE COLLEGE CHEAPER
-Better management would allow American universities
to do more with less
DEREK BOK, a former president of Harvard, once observed that “universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty: there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.” This is a bit hard on compulsive gamblers and exiled royals. America’s universities have raised their fees five times as fast as inflation over the past 30 years. Student debt in America exceeds credit-card debt. Yet still the universities keep sending begging letters to alumni and philanthropists.
This insatiable appetite for money was bad enough during the boom years. It is truly irritating now that middle-class incomes are stagnant and students are struggling to find good jobs. Hence a flurry of new thinking about higher education. Are universities inevitably expensive? Vance Fried, of Oklahoma State University, recently conducted a fascinating thought experiment, backed up by detailed calculations. Is it possible to provide a first-class undergraduate education for $6,700 a year rather than the $25,900 charged by public research universities or the $51,500 charged by their private peers? He concluded that it is.
Mr Fried shunned easy solutions. He insisted that students should live in residential colleges, just as they do at Harvard and Yale. He did not suggest getting rid of football stadiums (which usually pay for themselves) or scrimping on bed-and-board.
His cost-cutting strategies were as follows. First, separate the funding of teaching and research. Research is a public good, he reasoned, but there is no reason why undergraduates should pay for it. Second, increase the student-teacher ratio. Business and law schools achieve good results with big classes. Why not other colleges? Mr Fried thinks that universities will be able to mix some small classes with big ones even if they have fewer teachers. Third, eliminate or consolidate programmes that attract few students. Fourth, puncture administrative bloat. The cost of administration per student soared by 61% in real terms between 1993 and 2007. Private research universities spend $7,000 a year per student on “administrative support”: not only deans and department heads but also psychologists, counsellors, human-resources implementation managers and so on. That is more than the entire cost of educating a student under Mr Fried’s scheme.
Veteran university-watchers may dismiss Mr Fried’s ideas as pie in the sky. (“The only part of college not mired in tradition is the price,” grumbles Ben Wildavsky, a co-editor of “Reinventing Higher Education”.) Yet some universities are beginning to squeeze costs. The University of Minnesota’s new campus in Rochester has defined teaching as “job one”. The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has abolished tenure and merged academic departments. Regents at the University of Texas are talking about a $10,000 undergraduate degree.
Mr Fried fails to mention an obvious source of savings. Americans could complete their undergraduate degrees in three years (as is normal elsewhere), instead of four. In practice, most American students take even longer than four years, not least because so many work to pay their tuition. Surprisingly, America’s future chainsaw-wielding corporate titans take a leisurely two years to complete their MBAs; most Europeans need only one.
Shai Reshef, an educational entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, is pioneering an even more radical idea. His University of the People offers free higher education (not counting the few hundred dollars it costs to process applications and mark exams), pitching itself to poor people in America and the rest of the world. The university does this by exploiting three resources: the goodwill of academic volunteers who want to help the poor, the availability of free “courseware” on the internet and the power of social networking. Some 2,000 academic volunteers have designed the courses and given the university some credibility. Tutors direct the students, who so far number 1,000 or so and hail from around the world, to the online courses. They also help to organise them into study groups, and then supervise from afar, dropping in on discussions and marking tests. Mr Reshef pays for incidental expenses with $2m of his own money and donations.
There are plenty of questions about Mr Reshef’s project. Can you really build a university on volunteerism and goodwill? Can students really be relied upon to do most of the teaching themselves? Will free courseware remain free? (Newspapers that used to give away content online are now putting up pay barriers.)
Mr Reshef’s university has yet to win accreditation, which could take years. But he can take comfort from Clayton Christensen’s classic book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Mr Christensen points out that innovators often start by offering products that are cheaper, but markedly inferior. Quickly, however, they learn how to improve their offerings. Even if Mr Reshef fails, there are plenty of other disruptive innovators around. In America, one tertiary student in ten already studies exclusively online. One in four does so at least some of the time, and a growing number of bodies, including elite universities, think-tanks, governments and international organisations, are putting first-rate material online.
The coming campus rumpus
Sometimes when academics grouse that there is “never enough money”, they are justified—big science costs big bucks. But higher education is nevertheless marred by inefficiencies and skewed incentives. Students pay to be taught, but their professors are rewarded almost entirely for research. Mr Fried’s calculations suggest that one can slash costs without sacrificing much that students value. Mr Reshef’s experiment may fail, but there is no doubt that universities need more experimenters. The cost of tuition cannot forever rise faster than students’ ability to pay. Industries that cease to offer value for money sooner or later get shaken up. American universities are ripe for shaking.
Economist, Jul 7th 2011