My larger point is this: there is some limit beyond which increased tuition
levels produce financial gains for research universities.
I have been around higher education too long to believe that earnings are
the only measure of value. Truly educated individuals live longer, stay healthier,
keep out of jail, raise more successful children, and, by most measures, live
happier lives. But individual universities currently do not provide multi-faceted
data that substantiates the difference that their institution makes in the lives of
their graduates. Unless they begin to measure such outcomes and share that
data with students, their ability to charge the premium tuition needed to fund
high-cost education may well be compromised and with it may go the ability
of the research university to thrive.
Perhaps we can persuade the states to return to public research universities
the real per student state appropriations of 20 years ago. The same consider-
ations apply here as apply to the tuition/earnings calculus for students. States
from coast to coast are differentially funneling appropriations toward community
colleges since they appear to offer lower cost education per student. This is a
false economy when examined from the cost-per-degree perspective. Retention
in community college is so poor that their cost to produce an associate’s degree
is approximately the same as the cost of producing a bachelor’s degree at a
four-year public university.
Note that few employers protest redeployment of state funding from
research universities to other sectors of higher education. The highly educated
workers they need are highly mobile and move to wherever jobs are. This is
particularly true in a loose labor market.
These days, even very sophisticated work itself moves via the Internet to
employers. Thus employers can rely on workers educated and located in other
states or nations. Employers, at least in the short run, can enjoy lower state taxes
without jeopardizing their access to the high level labor force their businesses
Likewise, innovation needed to keep a state’s economy growing can be
imported. Chilean grape growers seem to get the bulk of their innovation from
research conducted at US universities. States seem to have learned that they can
economize on higher education expenditure, particularly research education
expenditure, without quashing innovation in their states.
If this is true for undergraduate and professional level workers and their
products, it is even truer for doctoral graduates. Faculty members are among
The Future of the US Research University
C O N T I N U E D
FEBRUARY 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC