Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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


At 8/12/2008 9:51 AM, Blogger thewitlessknower said...

Good post... I decided to go to a small private liberal arts college for this reason. I was thinking about going to a big public university like most my peers, but realized that I would be thrown in an auditorium and taught not by the professor but mostly by TAs. I think I have greatly benefited by my choice because I get a great liberal arts curriculum and am taught and have a close relationship with my professors. Graduate program is different, I would consider going to a big university because they have great graduate programs. But I haven't decided whether or not I will go for my MBA... guess the market will tell me later.

At 8/12/2008 9:53 AM, Blogger thewitlessknower said...

Oh, by the way, Chris Coyne used to be a professor of mine. Great professor, very sad when he left for WVU.

At 8/12/2008 10:03 AM, Blogger K T Cat said...

My word, what you're talking about is vouchers for college students! Have you no shame, sir? No shame at all?

At 8/12/2008 10:08 AM, Blogger baldus said...

It will apparently work as well as the Friedman's Voucher Plan. Great Idea. It will certainly decrease the role of government on society, spending less money, but BETTER.

At 8/12/2008 11:29 AM, Blogger Haris H. said...

DiscoverScholars.org is a new non-profit that aims to do just this, except with private rather than public money. It allows donors to donate directly to students, instead of to schools. It's much more transparent, and much less wasteful than giving to a school.

At 8/13/2008 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For once, an idea worth taking past the drawing board. Now could this also discourage exclusionism as it is done in universities today(as the power would hopefully be in the student and not the university)?

There is no shame in "vouchers for college students" if that is what is needed to get education out to the masses.


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