Recent talks by Barack Obama highlight his personal mission to make higher education more affordable. This is at a time that affluence at home and around the world has increased the demand for education, partially explaining the doubling of average tuition and fees at four-year U.S. universities during the past 20 years.
Those rising educational costs threaten prosperity, according to David Weisel of the Wall Street Journal. The solution must be addressed in terms of two fundamental realities that characterize the educational sector at all levels, namely: 1) difficulties associated with increasing productivity; and 2) the labor intensity of education.
Faculty and other professional staff absorb generally about 80 percent of all educational costs. Education from elementary through university is an extremely costly proposition in terms of time and labor inputs — and all without a guarantee of success.
This is particularly the case with respect to vocational education. Electricians, beauticians, mechanics, expert technicians, accountants, nurses, etc., generally have options exceeding the entry-level salaries offered in education. Educational administrators are mistaken if they operate on the assumption that highly specialized faculty member will automatically present themselves when institutions decide to build or market career programs to meet current client demands.
One obvious solution in trimming educational costs, as least at the secondary level and beyond, is for institutions to limit programs and specialize.
Another solution, borrowed from the past, is to capitalize on the flexibility of individuals who have previously demonstrated an ability to learn, enjoy learning, and are willing to engage, along with others, in learning new material.
Educational institutions cannot ignore market wage options open to faculty. However, until recently, instructors have accepted temporarily slightly less compensation than they otherwise could earn in order to pursue a career consistent with learning. This willingness supplements the financial investments of parents, benefactors, state, and nonprofit sponsors of education.