The Affordable Four-Year College: Is It Really What a High School Senior Wants?
Whenever state or national elections come around I keep reading the promises and diatribes from candidates on both sides about the “value,” or lack thereof, of a college education as well “reasons” why college “costs so much.” It’s very easy for a politician who has never run a college to say that higher education is in a bad state because of “bloated administrations” or “fancy football stadiums.”
Are there ways to create a more affordable four-year college versus asking a student to go to community college first, then transfer out?
Yes, and they almost exist.
An affordable four-year college would, in my view, charge no tuition at all. Then you can eliminate some of the bureaucracy of a financial aid office.
However, it would have to set fees that are tied to a student’s chosen academic program. Fees for an engineering program, or nursing or pharmacy, as examples would be higher than they would be for a liberal arts major. These would be the only direct charges that such the affordable four-year college would actually assess on each student. Come in, pay your fee. Figure out the rest of your costs on your own.
In thinking about an affordable four-year college imagine every amenity not tied to academics, stripped away.
- No residence halls. Need a place to live? Go find one on your own.
- No student center. Maybe a break room to sit between classes, possibly vending machines. Want to get lunch? Go off campus and get it.
- No intercollegiate varsity sports. In fact, no recreational facilities at all, If you want to exercise, go find a gym on your own.
- No library. Use your own resources. Or use the public library nearby.
- No health center. If you’re sick go to a doctor or the hospital.
- No bookstore. Order books online, rent them online or buy them used from classmates.
- No “career scholars.” Their salaries are too high. Hire adjuncts or use lectures delivered by professors at other colleges, purchased through a licensing agreement. Then you can use graduate students to teach the actual classes.
- No extra-curricular activities. They require faculty advisors. Not possible at a school relies on adjuncts to teach.
- No remedial course work. Either you can do college-level work or you can’t. Of course this would make the school more selective; the faculty and admissions office would prefer to have the students who are most likely to graduate on time. If you need a tutor, hire a classmate.
- Online classes for the courses that have no labs or field work. No need to take all of your classes in a classroom.
What would such a four-year college have?
- Some academic rigor. The teachers might not be the top-shelf scholars. But they will need to be demanding to assure graduate and professional schools, as well as employers, of the quality of the education the college offers. So, the teachers would need to report to administrators who can ensure quality.
- Classrooms that could be used for classes as well as study spaces. The furniture, breakout walls would be movable. The exception would be labs, unless the school offers no science courses that require them. That’s unlikely in states where politicians are pushing for more scientists and engineers.
- Academic and career advising. The affordable four-year college administration would want students to be in a position to declare a major as soon as possible.
- Advising to help students find internships and part-time jobs. This might be done by faculty in some departments.
- Security for the classroom buildings that have the most expensive equipment. But with no residence halls, the college administration would have fewer incidents of crime on campus, with a smaller security force.
- Parking, unless the school was right by bus, light rail and/or subways. That would need to be secured as well. Gates might work most of the time.
A working person who must divide time between work and school might find such a four-year college appealing. It would be inexpensive; the only costs would be the academic fee, books and transportation to school.
But a high school senior?
This concept of an affordable four-year college requires that either a student commute or grow up quickly as s/he settles into a community. The college would play little to no role in helping that student to become acclimated to the education or the surrounding community; it would actually do less than community colleges–and decent high schools— do today.
For-profit universities operate on a very similar model. That’s why they were able to claim profitability for some time. However, they have not had the success that traditional colleges have had in graduating young people who wanted to go from high school to college. Lax admissions policies, remedial courses that add time and costs, and high tuition and fees have damaged the appeal of the for-profit sector for the Federal Government as a lender and for investors who must capitalize those schools to supplement revenues from tuition and fees.
So, for an affordable four-year college to be successful as a tuition-free school, it cannot have lax admissions standards. It cannot afford to keep struggling students on campus if they have proven that they could not do the work. It must ask them to leave unceremoniously, but hopefully with little to no debt.
A “bare-bones” four-year college such as this might appeal to someone who lives close by and has no place else to go. It would likely not be a “national” or “regional” college or university. I doubt that it would that it would be a “prestigious” one. But I am sure that most college-bound high school seniors who could go elsewhere would.
The politicians who envision that such a four-year college could succeed have no clue on what they’re talking about.
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