Saturday, July 28, 2007

For philosophy, they'll pay you!

From today's NY Times, public universities are more and more charging different tuition rates for different majors. Business, engineering, chemistry and journalism (really, journalism???) are the premium priced majors cited in the article and the University of Wisconsin, Kansas U, Arizona State U, U of Nebraska, U of Illinois are cited as price discriminators. Among the stated rationales are to offset high professor salaries in the premium fields and to help purchase specialized equipment.

No one quoted in the article appeared to be happy with the practice, which to me just kind of makes sense. A bureaucrat from U of Kansas put it this way:

“Where we have gone astray culturally,” he said, “is that we have focused almost exclusively on starting salary as an indicator of life earnings and also of the value of the particular major.”

(Is there a better single proxy for life earnings than one's starting salary??)

Mark Kushner, dean of Iowa State's engineering college weighs in thusly:

Mr. Kushner said he thought society was no longer looking at higher education as a common good but rather as a way for individuals to increase their earning power.

“There was a time, not that long ago, 10 to 15 years ago, that the vast majority of the cost of education at public universities was borne by the state, and that was why tuition was so low,” he said. “That was based on the premise that the education of an individual is a public good, that individuals go out and become schoolteachers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers, that makes society better. That’s no longer the perception.”

If that was the perception of the past, I don't think its very accurate to emphasize a significant public good dimension of higher education. It really is all about the Benjamins, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

I think it's actually a mix between a public and private good, but let's be honest, too many students go to college, so I'm in favor of costs on the front end with some risk borne by the state (i.e. generous rates of loan interest in exchange for less tuition subsidies).

Tommy the Englishman is now teaching in England that is just marketizing their salaries but came from a school with huge differentials across departments. The question is what externalities emerge when the philosophy professor getting paid 1/4th of the salary as a business prof is asked to do the same amount of committee work, be as rah rah about the school, etc? Also, will poorer students be deterred from expensive majors or will the future rewards even their apprehension?

Speedmaster said...

I saw that this morning too, very interesting.

Anonymous said...

So if the prices are set right (allowing for your negative price example) the expected return to any major should be the same? Cool.

Tony C