What If Gov't. Subsidized Students, Not Colleges?
In my judgment, there is a problem of balance between research and teaching in American colleges and universities. Most of the problem comes from the fact that government subsidies have undermined market forces.
By and large, the government subsidizes colleges, not students. Federal and state financial support, although based on the enrollment of each student, goes to the university, and the university administration allocates it. If the government actually subsidized students, the payoff from undergraduate teaching would be higher, because students would seek to spend their subsidy dollars at schools emphasizing undergraduate education and not at schools emphasizing research.
In other words, the current public university system makes it very difficult for students to cast dollar votes for excellence in teaching.
I do think that research helps one become a better teacher, particularly at the graduate level. But the marginal payoff of research is low for most faculty members. The creative energies of those who are interested in tenure and larger raises are directed toward knocking out more articles, even if few read them. Would this be the case if the government subsidies followed the student and students were free to choose among colleges? I don't think so. Student dollars would go more toward good teaching and less toward esoteric research.
~Florida State economist and textbook author James Gwartney speaking at a recent forum on "Are Research and Teaching Friends or Foes?" with three other economists.
HT: Pete Boettke