| June 22, 2012

The ground is shifting in higher education

Question: Why do colleges keep raising tuition?

Answer: Because they can.

That’s the short answer, anyway. Economist Richard Vedder elaborates here, and his piece is timely, given that Oklahoma regents just approved another round of tuition hikes.

The economist Herbert Stein famously observed that “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” One wonders if Oklahoma’s higher-education officials have any idea that the status quo is unsustainable. “As the winds of austerity sweep through the country, winter is coming for academia,” Walter Russell Mead writes (‘Academia’s Day of Reckoning Draws Nearer’). “Taxpayers and their representatives can no longer afford to supply blanket support to every academic venture, field, and practitioner.”

Parents and students can no longer afford it either—read Kevin Carey’s recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education (‘Here’s a Diploma, With Ball and Chain Attached’)—especially as the realization dawns that the return on investment (ROI) isn’t always what was promised. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics informs us that the U.S. now has 115,000 janitors, 83,000 bartenders, and 323,000 restaurant servers with bachelor’s degrees. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, at some Oklahoma universities the return on investment is actually negative.

Hat tip to Matt Ladner for pointing me to this video of Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun discussing online open courses. Ladner thinks this could be “the canary dying in the higher-education status-quo coal mine.” Are Oklahoma’s higher-education officials paying attention?

Brandon Dutcher can be reached at or

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