Paying the right price for college

When we're seeking a diploma from a prestigious institution of higher ed, there's no way to pay what I consider the right price for college. The cost is part of the prestige.  The more we pay, the better the impression it makes on employers, social contacts and family members. The "goods" are being purchased for their glamour and ability to impress others. The package seems far more important than the contents. Where the diploma came gets regarded as very significant. How much was learned or how well it was learned counts for very little.

When we're trying to save money as we seek a college education, we carefully avoid getting overcharged for a prestigious and glamourous diploma. We're looking for a bargain. We assume we're in danger of getting overcharged, ripped off and sold a scam if we pay more than a minimum price. The providers of higher ed at a low price probably cut corners and shortchange the students to make their ends meet. The contents of the unimpressive package can easily be as bad as what others get in the glamourous package at a premium price.

These two extremes occur when higher ed gets delivered by accredited institutions. There's no way to raise the quality while lowering the price. The physical facilities are very expensive to operate and are often in need of repairs. The payroll costs are increasing for the vast number of academic and support personnel. The financial support from endowments, alumni and/or legislatures are declining. Then there are the added expenses of athletics, campus activities, fund raising events, faculty research and library resources.

It will become possible to pay the right price for college when it's bought on spot markets. Rather than continue to buy college as big ticket item, it will get purchased in small increments. The value of each piece will have to measure up to the price charged. The price will come down amidst competing offerings. Each piece will serve a smaller niche with much less administrative overhead. Unlike exorbitantly priced spare parts for a particular model of automobile or computer, the price can be right for the student with a generic need to know, practice or discover for oneself.

The quality will improve as the price comes down. Providers will move out learn curves that improve efficiency, responsiveness and support services. Students will get more for their money as they purchase educational experiences from the right person doing the right thing at the right time and place. They will benefit from the right diagnosis getting made of the difficulties they're experiencing, as well as of any setbacks experienced by the providers. We will see shifts in price performance ratios like we have witnessed with continually improving electronics.


  1. Great post Tom. I completely agree, especially with your comments about the disaggregation of education. I think one of the main reasons kids are not interested in school is because they have no say in the subject matter. They are used to being able to choose everything else in their lives, so this annoys them.

  2. Thanks Andrew.
    I suspect kids will flock to disaggregated offerings once the credibility/authority issues are handled in their minds. They don't need as much cred found in the sources when they shop or socialize as they do when they are investing in future employment.