Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Time to End the Amenities Arms Race?

In the middle of a rather depressing story about Reed College's financial woes, I did find some encouragement in this:
When he talks about Reed’s short-term response to the recession, [Reed President Colin] Diver concedes that he is torn, wondering whether a broader reassessment would be in order.

Perhaps it would be a good thing, he said, if the recession could refocus college administrators on the quality of higher education, rather than on investments in climbing walls (Reed does not have one) and other “country club” aspects of college life that have fueled an academic arms race reliant on tuition increases and fund-raising.

“The catering to consumer tastes — I keep trying to say, we are in the education business,” Mr. Diver said, describing the pressure to keep up with wealthier colleges and expressing a frustration rarely voiced publicly by college presidents. “The whole principle behind higher education is, we know something that you don’t. Therefore, we shouldn’t cater to them.”
Amen to that!

While I would attribute the increase in the relative price of higher education primarily to Baumol's cost disease, the positional arms race in amenities is no doubt an important secondary factor. Hopefully the recession will finally force a change in priorities.

Of course, I say that secure in the knowledge that the finishing touches are being applied to the new FSB building...


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