Time for Universities to Focus on Education

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education’s recent suggestion to establish “no-frills” 4-year colleges. The proposal has sparked debate over what constitutes a “frill”. Francis Michelini, a retired college president and chair of the board’s Higher Education Council said, “You can’t recruit a student to live in a gang dorm anymore. Is that a frill?”

As a recent college grad I lived in a “gang style” dorm for two years and it was one of the best experiences of my undergraduate career, but defining what is and is not a frill isn’t the point. The point is college is not affordable when the cost increases 3% above inflation annually, and the average PA student graduates $19,047 in debt. It’s time to re-think the way our tax dollars are being allocated to higher education universities.

If the state funded students, instead of universities, schools wouldn’t have to define frills or defend their funding choices. Instead, students would be able choose between “no frill” and “frill” schools.

Unlike the governor’s proposal to legalize and tax video poker, this solution would wouldn’t cost tax payers a dime. As we’ve pointed out in our policy brief, replacing direct state subsidies to universities with scholarship grants to students will make Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities more responsive to the needs of students and less expensive for both families and taxpayers. Along with this reform, we recommend:

  • Halting all state higher education subsidies and making any increase contingent upon freezes in tuition costs and greater spending transparency for taxpayers. 
  • Holding students, colleges, and universities accountable for the taxpayer support they receive.
  • Re-focusing all state institutions on teaching, rather than research.