Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

More Universitiy Campuses?

Noah Smith has a column at Bloomberg View arguing that the US needs not just to consider ways of subsidizing college & university attendance (as, for example, Andrew Cuomo's recent proposal, basically adopting Hilary Clinton's campaign proposal, which played off Bernie Sanders' proposal)--we should consider creating new campuses.  Why?  Because the capacity of the existing system is limited, and enrollment expansion without expanding capacity simply rearranges who get in.

His proposal emphasizes public institutions.  But I don't see why private institutions should be ignored.  For example, a number of private schools have been known to refer to themselves as "the Harvard of the Midwest."  Well, what about a real Harvard campus in the Midwest?  Or a Sarah Lawrence campus in Oregon?  Or (perhaps less plausibly) a University of Chicago campus in Georgia?  Princeton on the Plains?  Columbia on the banks of the Columbia River?  Dartmouth in Dallas?  Yale...well, you get the idea. 

Harvard, for example, has essentially the same undergraduate enrollment now that it had in 1965 (when I started college).  In 1965, it admitted about 20% of the students applying.  Now, it admits fewer than 5%.  The "elite" institutions (like the ones I have mentioned above) have similarly had relatively constant undergraduate enrollments,  large increases in applicants, and lower acceptance rates.*  The increases in applications have been driven by rising US population (now nearly 320 million, up from about 190 million in 1965) and by a huge increase in global demand for US higher education (driven by rising populations and rising incomes).

Obviously, the demand for enrollment at top-tier schools has exploded. "Standard" economics tells us that tuition will rise--and it has.  But "standard" economics also suggests that those institutions experiencing increased demand would respond by increasing capacity.  One might argue that, were Harvard (etc.) to expand its current campus, that the quality of the experience would decline.  But a new campus could maintain the scale, and, whatever the Harvards of the world might think, there are enough highly qualified faculty that educational standards would not decline. 

Many private colleges and universities have created new campuses--overseas.  Why not create new campuses in the US as well?

*This is not true just at "elite" institutions.  My undergraduate school--DePauw University, in Greencastle, IN, has also experienced a large increase in applications--and has reduced its undergraduate enrollment by about 10% since I was there.


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