Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ron Paul Might Have a Point

There was great buzz yesterday when Ron Paul announced that as president, he would do away with student loans.  When asked why, he suggested that all they have done is drive up the costs of college and not shown, to any appreciable degree, to have helped those they intended to help.  He has since put out a note suggesting that he would not do away with the loans, but would instead drastically alter them.  As someone who has both greatly benefited from and is currently enslaved by student loans, I am both horrified and in full understand of his thinking here.

At my current institution, over 70% of the operational dollars making their way throughout the university are of governmental origin.  Your college or university is probably very similar.  That is frightening.  That means that if the spigot was shut off tomorrow, we would have to live with 30% of our operating capital in one fell swoop.  That would probably be doable since we would probably only have 30% of our students, but you get the idea.  Ouch.

I think that even if Ron Paul is just pulling the pin and tossing campaign grenades, his point is worth discussing.  Simply put, colleges have become more and more expensive because they have been allowed to get more expensive.  There are a million reasons as to why they have become more expensive but one of the chief reasons is that students have had almost free access to financial resources and have been able to borrow (and borrow and borrow and borrow) at will.  If a customer (a word that in an educational context still makes me cringe) can find money, the product (ugh) producer will also find a way to make it more expensive.  

In one of the most insightful articles I have read in some time, there are some fixes that will be challenging and transformative and most frighteningly - different - but certainly doable.

Over the next few days I would like to dissect the Washintgon Post article and provide context and insight on their 8 recommended suggestions.  Concurrently, I am working on a personal side project with a university partner (not of my own - an out of town friend) to recreate a university operational model from the ground up - using real (not modeled) dollars.

What does an institution look like that doesn't offer student loans or government aid?
That has a traditional residential population and robust intramural programs but no NCAA athletics?
That has partnership agreements for gyms and recreation areas and Arms Race agreements with other neighboring schools.
That leaves the realm of a glorified trade curriculum and more of a classical, liberal arts, thinking curriculum.
That teaches how to live and how to think and how to dream and how to vision and make things happen.
That is driven by mission and is willing to let students choose from a "marketplace" of missions as opposed to a market place of merit aid, amenities, price, and services.  
And that costs way, way less.
Surprisingly, I am very close to coming up with a model that works financially and missionally.    

Looking forward to the discussion.

 ~~ Listening to Eluvium and Tori Amos