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New TPPF Report on Texas Higher Ed Reform

Posted on December 20th, 2012, by 1 Comment

Richard Vedder contributed to a recent study published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation on higher-education reform in Texas. Toward Strengthening Texas Public Higher Education: 10 Areas of Reform by Thomas Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, offers seven internal reforms and three external reforms for the state to lower costs and improve quality for students, educators, administrators, and taxpayers. As “the average cost of tuition at Texas public universities has increased five percent a year —every year— since 1994,” the higher-education system could greatly benefit from reform.

Among the suggested reforms, Lindsay advocates tying university funding to learning outcomes rather than enrollment figures; feasibility studies for a 10 percent reduction

in administrative staff budgets; feasibility studies for a

$10,000 degree in every institution’s four most popular degrees; more transparency from institutions in regards to tuition, retention rates, graduation rates, average student debt relative to other institutions, and other data that can help prospective students and parents make informed decisions; and reform Texas law that prevents other quality institutions from entering into competition.

It remains to be seen whether any reforms will be enacted, but recent efforts might provide an argument for optimism. Regardless, the study provides a blueprint for other states to examine weaknesses in their higher-education systems and a path to improvement.

  • Glen S. McGhee, FHEAP

    “So it’s not just that a college degree is unaffordable,” Lindsay remarks. “It’s also very, very low-quality in all too many cases. The higher-ed establishment is an industry that is ripe for disruptive innovation, and that’s what’s happening.”

    As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

    Clayton M. Christensen introduced the idea of a “disruptive technology” in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave (HBR), and he used it to describe a very specific kind of innovation — one which is substandard on at least one or two product dimensions, and one which reaches new markets/customers, including those that did not need it earlier.

    Compare the cell phone with the hand-set that it has replaced: inferior in signal response time, and inferior sound quality. The upside of this disruptive innovation is mobility and size.

    But when I want to hear what someone is saying, instead of having to guess or ask them to repeat what they said, and when I want to have a conversation with a normal rhythm and not a rhythm dictated by the cell network, then I use my old fashioned land line.

    “Generally, disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward, consisting of off-the-shelf components put together in a product architecture that was often simpler than prior approaches. They offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there.” (Christensen, 1997)

    The same distinction needs to be made when discussion “disruptive innovations” in education. From wiki, ” [A] disruptive technology may enter the market and provide a product which has lower performance than the incumbent but which exceeds the requirements of certain segments, thereby gaining a foothold in the market. In low-end disruption, the disruptor is focused initially on serving the least profitable customer, who is happy with a good enough product.”

    This, of course, is how Sperling succeeded with University of Phoenix, and it is an open question if this is the path advocated by Lindsay — especially when quality problems already abound.