Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fantasy From Fact: All Higher Education Can Be Tuition-Free

I have read the submissions published by Evolllution on the two-year tuition-free initiatives that are the rage these days in higher education:

J Noah Brown, President and CEO, Association of Community College Trustees and a member of Obama's College Promise Advisory Board, considers them a mend for the American economy and a long overdue fulfillment of a promise made by the Truman Commission. Barmak Nassirian, Director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, considers them "frivolous escapist fantasies." Claude Pressnell, President, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities, worries about "under-matching" and the undervaluing of education in favour of training. Others such as Shannon McCarty, Dean of Instruction and Academic Affairs, Rio Salado Community College, and Lenore Rodicio, Provost, Miami-Dade College, see opportunity to introduce more technology and more government funding to accommodate the intended increase in student demand.

But whether fantasy or fact no one is aiming for tuition-free higher education at all levels. No one is aiming to realize the right to free higher education, as ratified by America in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  And though Nassirian calls for it, not even he is offering "discussion on a radical overhaul of the American higher education financing."

Well, no one it seems except me. And the discussion I offer is not predicated on the further introduction of technology, government funding or philanthropy.  In fact, it is predicated on their reduction.

Tuition-free, high-quality, universally accessible, face-to-face higher education can be achieved if we change the relationship between institutions and individuals. As a model, Professional Society of Academics (PSA) does just that.



Evolllution has published my thinking on how academics could be vendors for universities and colleges. But by my light a more accurate way to see the PSA higher education model is the other way around, institutions as vendors for individuals (specifically, academics and students).

Under the current model there are two sets of gatekeepers that determine eligibility in higher education.  In order of authority there are the federally approved agencies that accredit Title IV institutions and then there are those institutions, the colleges and universities, that, through their hiring and admission practices, determine who is eligible to educate (academics) and be educated (students). This arrangement is meant to ensure quality. Only accredited institutions are eligible to provide recognized higher education credentials through their academic faculty employees.

Fact, not fantasy: This model is dysfunctional and defunct for all sorts of well-known reasons.

If, as PSA advocates, eligibility were moved from institutions to individuals then frivolous fantasy could become fundamental fact.

The fantasy?
1) Tuition-free HE at all levels
2) Unlimited access to HE for all individuals: students (education) and academics (income)
3) 75% reduction in the total cost to provide HE (i.e., the student and government contributions)
4) Billions of dollars in new revenue for public and private coffers
5) Improved quality of HE
6) Funding for non-educational student expenses
7) Migration of HE from the capitalist to the social economy
8) Solution to the academic labor problem
...to name a few key fantastic benefits of the model I have developed.

The fact?
1) The accreditation bodies and  institutions would no longer be gatekeepers of eligibility
2) The gatekeepers would be a profession of academics and academics in private practice
3) The profession would be the gatekeeper for academics who provide HE services
4) The academics would be the gatekeeper for students who can receive HE services
5) The institutions would be vendors for the profession and academics in private practice
6) The finance would remain a combination of public and private
...to name a few key facts of the PSA model.

If I am correct, then much of the current infrastructure can remain intact. However, institutions would no longer be the employers of union represented faculty. They would be (mere) vendors.

A key fact that can make this fantasy a reality is a straightforward business plan for a professional private academic practice in (say) philosophy - or any field in the Humanities, Law, Business, Soft Sciences, and perhaps others.

It is simple to do. I have done it for a philosophy practice (my field). I encourage other exploited academics to do the same - maybe start a public database as a way to compare the current institutional model costs with those of PSA. In fact, because of the personal and public benefits of this alternative model, I recommend that all academics do the same, since the benefits might well inspire even those in secure institutional employment positions to migrate to PSA.

The business plan is a foundational fact for PSA. It demonstrates that face-to-face HE can be offered for far less than the current institutional model - around 75% less.  This is staggering and changes everything. It is a fact that makes fantasy come true.

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