EdMedia Commons Archive

What Can Housing Policy Teach Us About the Costs of Higher Education?

Piggy-backing off Slate writer Matthew Yglesias’ ideas,  Joshua Kim—a professor director of Learning and Technology at Dartmouth—wrote at Inside Higher Ed that the merits of easing access to the most selective schools through blended-learning could have a cascade effect of bringing the cost of college down while challenging less-selective institutions to offer better academic services.

Yglesias’ ebook, called “The Rent is Too Damn High”, argues housing and rent prices in major cities stay high because caps on building heights and mandated development add-ons such as parking space inflate the price of land, making the available property more expensive for owners and lease holders.  Kim believes the worlds of housing and tuition costs are analogous:

To the extent that classroom space is the limiting factor on increasing enrollment the development of online and blended learning can help us grow our student enrollments without any sacrifice in quality.

Increased enrollments should help us lower tuition costs for everybody, as the cost to educate each additional student drops at the margin.  

More slots available at the most selective institutions will in turn exert downward pricing pressure on less selective institutions, as they will be forced to become more productive to compete on price. And more spaces available at our highest quality universities may raise the quality of the education available across the board, as more institutions will be forced to compete on quality as opposed to lower barriers of entry.

Some data background: A major study in May found students enrolled in blended learning statistics courses did no worse than students in traditional courses. The hybrid model of learning also taught students faster, raising hopes high-quality blended learning models can reduce college costs. The least expensive alternative, fully online courses, so far has not been shown to be as effective as traditional classroom settings.

Clearly, online and hybrid courses aren’t going away; in fact they’ve been moving beyond the for-profit model made popular by DeVry and University of Phoenix. With credit-granting online course providers like the Saylor Foundation and Western Governors University, the appeal of higher education on the cheap will only grow.

Is Kim’s comparison fair? Will leadership from the top universities put pressure on other colleges to improve? And down the line, should traditional institutions fear the rise of these suppler, more affordable online options?


*Photo caption: Flickr/Fixlr, The State University of New York (SUNY) participated in the May study comparing blended learning and traditional classroom results.

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.