It is old news that college costs have far out-paced wages over the past generation. The real question that universities will ultimately have to face, just like any other business, is what is the value add? How are the charges justified? Let’s take rankings for a moment. If a university accepts the top high school students what does the university actually do to provide value to those students? No one would rank car companies based on the materials that they place on the production line. Rather, car companies are ranked on the products that they produce. What if colleges and universities were held to account on those measures? What if students didn’t have to pay until value was produced by the college or university? No one pays a car company in advance simply because the car company is ranked “#1 in the nation” on incoming raw materials. People pay car companies (or any other business) for the value that they produce.
If universities would focus on the value they bring to students, the way that they can transform their lives, perhaps university costs would not be so out-of-control. Instead of asking, “How many costly dorms and other amenities can we build to attract the best students?” the questions should be “Given the precious resources we already have, what can we do to magnify the abilities of our learners, provide enduring value to them (and to society) long-term so that we are the university everyone begs to join?”