From an opinion piece in today's NYT
, Luigi Zingales, professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, points out that, while those in higher ed are quick to accuse businesspeople of lobbying for less competition and increased subsidies on their behalf, colleges and universities have been doing the same thing for years.
Indeed, we're seeing increased calls for student loan reform with student debt spiraling out of control, no mere coincidence when coupled with a 50%+ increase in college tuition over the past 40 years. And those involved in higher ed administration certainly aren't going to cut their prices anytime soon. So what are the alternatives?
Zingales advocates for a system where venture capitalists invest in promising young students' education, with the students paying a percentage of their salary back to their benefactor when they enter the workforce. This isn't even a revolutionary idea, and the author makes no attempt to claim it as his own. In fact, Peter Thiel's (of Facebook fame, etc.) fairly new fellowship program
no-strings-attached grants of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education.
Think Richie Rich
, minus the waterslide in his bedroom.
There's a lot of financial jargon in this article (for which I went to library school to avoid), but I've tried to cut through it and sum up some of the key points so you don't have to (what a guy, right?).
A system like the one proposed would take pressure off of students who feel they need to go into high paying fields in order to pay off mounting debts, and potentially go into fields where they can influence positive social change. Further, because investors will have a stake in these students' success, it will behoove them to tutor/mentor/counsel these student, if for no other reason than to recoup a higher ROI.
I'll let Zingales sum it up for you:
The most important effect of these equity contracts would be to show that it is possible to intervene to help the disadvantaged without turning that help into an undue subsidy for the producers (universities) and the creation of a privileged class (professors like me) at the expense of everybody else (students and taxpayers). After all, how can we scholars criticize crony capitalism when we benefit from it?
Certainly, it's not a perfect system. But people are starting to think outside of the box, and sometimes that step's the steepest to climb.