By way of Tyler Cowen we find that it’s going on, of course:
- Price discrimination for higher-ed classes (Marginal Revolution)
Under the plan, approved by the governing board and believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the two-year college would create a nonprofit foundation to offer such in-demand classes as English and math at a cost of about $200 per unit. Currently, fees are $36 per unit, set by the Legislature for California community college students. That fee will rise to $46 this summer.
So that’s why I’ve been hearing a keening chorus of “It’s so unfaaaaiiiirrrrr!” from the south today. Here I thought it was just the wind.
As usual I’m given to think about this from a utilitarian perspective. What’s a greater cost to the student who needs MATH 101 as a prereq for the engineering programme into which they hope to transfer: Taking MATH 101 at a slightly-greater-than 4x price premium this semester, or waiting four months for another section to open up at the set fee (and hope to get a seat in that one, and maybe wait another four months if it fills up too)? Price discrimination should always be discussed in terms of opportunity cost. (So should everything else, for that matter.)
If the problem is limited classroom and instructor capacity, there’s a third option: Allow prospective students to test out of community college courses for a nominal fee (say, $20/unit). This is full of bad, bad, bad incentives for the community college in that it becomes a credentialing agency rather than a Gatekeeper To Knowledge and Custodian Of Young Minds, but who the fuck ascribes the traditional higher-ed virtues to two-year colleges anyway? If we start to accept that educational institutions are first of all credentialing agencies and — subordinate to that — venues for teaching people who choose to learn in a particular way (structured classroom instruction) decoupling exams from lectures is an obvious step. Hell, it’s going to happen anyway; Higher Ed might as well try to take on as much of the transition on their own terms as it can manage.