Tuition Reimagined

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

First, some background: The current system of tuition billing charges students on the basis of credit hours. Cost of each hour will vary based on difficulty with, as an example, a credit hour of graduate study costing $500 versus an undergraduate credit hour costing $250. A student’s bill is calculated by totaling the number of credit hours with some discounts for bulk.

College tuition is billed on the basis of credit hours; a student’s bill is tabulated on the basis of credit hours taken.

Products of College Tuition

What does a student purchase with college tuition? There are multiple items here: expanded knowledge, social engagement, expanded experiences, etc… These are the abstract provisions provided by a college environment. In some sense “the academy” is an exclusive club that provides access to interesting ideas and people. In this sense tuition is the cost of membership or the ticket price for access to the resource.

The college degree is the concrete product provided by a college. A symbol representing an assurance that a student is knowledgeable, the single piece of paper acts as proof or documentation that the individual whose name appears on that document has been verified to possess the skills listed on the document.

A New Model of Tuition

A better format for charging tuition is on the basis of the concrete product of tuition: the degree. Imagine the following model:

Tuition is assessed only when a degree has been earned. For example, a student enrolls in a school and begins taking classes. The student is unsure of which degree to pursue and bounces from discipline to discipline, exploring different classes and pursuing areas of intellectual interest. There is no charge here- the only tuition assessed comes only when a degree has been earned. Simply stated: the student pays only for the degree that has been earned and only when the degree has been earned. All other classes that are not listed on the required list of classes for the degree earned are not billed: these classes are taken without charge.

Why is this system better? The current system of billing for every credit hour inhibits student exploration. Students tasked with pursuing a degree with limited funds are better served by picking a program and sticking to it. It is too expensive to explore classes that do not relate to the selected major. A student with limited funds is best to disregard these side interests and focus instead on the list of classes needed to earn the degree. Anything that does not contribute to the major are best to discarded as expensive explorations.

Absurdly, the current tuition system in higher education severs a student from his or her intellect and disregards the wealth of possibility on the campus. A student enrolled in a college has access to a vast variety of disciplines and knowledge but is constrained by financial limitations to self-censor personal curiosity and disregard the potential benefits of a broad exploration of the resources available.

Adopting a system where the degree is the single source of charge drastically improves the system. If a student is free to take any class he or she can explore even the most niche of interests. Knowing that the tuition bill will come only when a degree has been earned, the student can explore and expand personal knowledge according to interest and intellectual evolution.

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