| September 24, 2012

Prescient Oklahoma lawmaker sees Higher Ed’s future

It’s been said that higher-education administrators treat regents like mushrooms: “Keep them in the dark and feed them manure.”

Regrettably, some powerful administrators—here in Oklahoma, higher education is known as the fourth branch of government—often treat state lawmakers the same way.

Fortunately, not all lawmakers are content to stay in the dark. Rep. Jason Murphey, a Republican from Guthrie, is chairman of the Government Modernization Committee in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He makes it his business to know about higher education, and in a series of recent columns in the Edmond Sun he tried to give readers a crash course in higher ed’s inefficiencies and in the disruptive innovation that is changing the entire model.

In a column entitled “Higher education spending continues to skyrocket,” Rep. Murphey showed how continual spending hikes are building Oklahoma’s higher ed fiefdom. “In fact,” he says, “there are now an estimated 32,000 full-time positions within the higher ed system. To put this into perspective, consider that the remainder of state government agencies contain about 37,000 positions.” (What’s more, Patrick McGuigan reported last year that 2,086 of those higher-ed employees are earning six-figure salaries.)

In “Suggestions for lowering tuition costs,” Rep. Murphey again mentions “the enormous expansion in higher ed spending and indebtedness during the past 10 years,” and suggests that consolidation is needed. (Incredibly, our state of 3.8 million people has nearly 30 public higher-education institutions.) “Higher ed can’t hold out forever,” Rep. Murphey says. “Eventually, technology will drive down the cost curve just like it has in so many other areas of life.”

In “Popping the higher ed bubble,” Rep. Murphey says higher education in Oklahoma “is drastically overpriced and will face a day of reckoning. … By failing to lead the way in offering reduced-cost online access, local universities risk failing to establish market share in higher education venues of the future.”

Lastly, in a column entitled “In the future, higher education will be free,” Rep. Murphey says that “Harvard and MIT have each invested $30 million in their own online free education platform ( … is just one free online higher education platform. There will be more.”

Clearly Rep. Murphey is not captive to the conventional wisdom (this is perhaps not surprising, given that he was homeschooled as a youngster). Here’s hoping his fellow lawmakers are paying attention.

[Cross-posted at, a new blog analyzing higher education.]

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