Not everyone wants a cheap, no-frills degree

Higher education’s financial squeeze will worsen, predicts a Moody’s report. All the traditional revenue sources — tuition, state and federal funding, endowments and philanthropy — are under pressure.

The end is not nigh for U.S. colleges and universities, argues Robert J. Sternberg, provost and professor of psychology and education at Oklahoma State, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Some people want the cheapest education possible that will get them the job they want. Others want much more: nice dormitories, diverse student activities, world-famous professors, top-flight institutional reputation—and are willing to pay for it. An advantage of the higher-education market is that financial aid is often available to help students reach beyond what they normally could afford.

Second, students are not merely consumers of higher education; they also actively construct their college careers. They develop a plan for their coursework, their project work, their extracurricular activities, and their social network.

. . .  two students going to the same college may produce entirely different educations.

Top German universities charge much less than comparable U.S. universities but offer no “university-sponsored athletic teams or facilities, fraternities, sororities, student clubs, dormitories, meal plans, or other accouterments,”  Sternberg writes. If German students want activities, they organize and pay for them.

American universities can reduce costs by greatly lowering their overhead, as do the German universities, or by having professors do some or even all of their teaching online. What students may lose, however, is much, or even most, of the informal curriculum of college—the networking and the face-to-face personal interactions that many people feel are so important to the college experience.

Some will choose a cheap, no-frills college degree, but others will pay more for an academic-and-social degree, Sternberg suggests.

Community college students forego nearly all the frills, using far less student aid than those who opt for “the college experience.” Should taxpayers be asked for fund students’ social life?