Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reducing the cost of education

The rise of online education coupled with aggregate US student loan debt in excess of a trillion dollars has prompted  students, educators, administrators, and legislators to look for ways to reduce the costs of higher education. With half of all LB students receiving financial aid in the form of grants and loans, LBCC is no exception.
Thankfully the administration here at LB, and Oregon legislators, are working on several plans, set to be formally announced later this month, to ameliorate the costs of receiving, what is ostensibly, one’s ticket to the “good life”.  
From using an outcomes based approach for teacher pay-scales and expanding talent grant programs to charging different fees based on the actual cost of teaching and mandatory advisement, LBCC administrators are looking for any and all ways to make getting an education easier, faster, and more affordable.
While professors might be nervous about having their pay scales changed, moving from a flat fee per service model, as currently exists, to an outcomes based approach would incentivize best practices for matriculating students. Furthermore it would begin to undo the now common behavior of professor apathy toward broad student achievement.
This is not to say that professors don’t care about their students, far from it, professors are simply not paid to care about how all their students fair. Professors get paid whether you pass or not, and that creates a perverse incentive to either just pass students along or to focus on those who “care”, while letting those who do care, but may not appear to, slide further and further behind.
The high cost of education though cannot be blamed on professors salaries entirely, there are a host of other inefficiencies in the education system. Not least of which is students taking classes they don’t actually need.
LB began to address this problem this year by requiring all first time students to speak with an advisor before they were even able to register. Furthermore, after week 5, all students will have a long term advisor assigned to them. This will enable students to better understand what classes they actually need to take.
Beyond reducing unnecessary course loads LB administrators are also looking to expand the talent grant and co-curricular scholarship programs. At present, according to Dean of Student Services Lynne Cox talent grants can only be used to fund up to 12 credit hours, administrators however have been floating the idea of expanding that to 15 credit hours. Programs like this not only reduce the debt burden of participants but they facilitate a deeper understanding of the practical aspects of one’s preferred field.
This writer, for example, while thoroughly enjoying his writing classes learned far more about what it means to be a journalist actually participating in the journalistic process. The proverbial cherry on top was receiving 3 credit hours worth of funding.
Another potential solution to rising costs is to move away from the flat fee model of “credits”. At present, a credit is a credit is a credit, and they all cost about 100 dollars per. This number is not arbitrary, it represents a ruff average of the cost to actually provide a credit’s worth of education. The problem is, like so much in life, not all credits are created equal. Some classes require very expensive tools, like welding, chemistry, physics, or nursing. Whereas programs like english, psychology, or anthropology are cheaper. By moving from a flat fee model to a granular one community colleges like LB can more equitably serve their students.
While the cost of an education is a big part of the reason for the nations trillion dollar student loan bill, it is not the only one. A big part of this student loan debt crisis is students overspending and overborrowing. Students are not always, despite taking the online credit counseling required before receiving financial aid, aware of obligations they are taking on when they sign on the dotted line.
While not all students are aware of  dangers in over borrowing some are.  Rick Brown,  a student in the Psychology department, said that he has financial aide, both grants and loans, and that he was grateful, “I wouldn’t be here without them”, he said. He also stated that other students need to better understand the ramifications of taking on tens of thousands of dollars in loans. While he wasn’t worried about being able to pay off his student loans he did say that he thought about just how much he needed before he actually went out and took loans.
Another student, Andrew McMurtrey who is studying Diagnostic Imaging, said that without  financial aid LB would not be as full as it is. He echoed Rick’s statement about understanding the ramifications of taking out loans to fund one’s education.
If students borrow more responsibly, colleges charge less, and education generally becomes more efficient the student loan debt crisis might just be averted. But this crisis will take the collective action of all participants in the education system. From teachers and students to administrators and legislators, we all have a part to play in fixing the system.

Related Links
Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?
Too Big to Fail: Student debt hits a trillion