Modern universities are an exercise in insanity

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Modern universities are an exercise in insanity, T. Greer reminds us — even if we ignore all the other problems and look at just the cost:

How can you possibly justify a $200,000+ college expense? How can you justify a $100,000+ college expense?

This is not necessary.

The average tenure track professor makes $40 an hour. If you were to employ her as a private tutor at the cost of $60 an hour, and had four hours with her a week, and did that for 14 weeks (that’s the length of an average college course folks) that is about $3,400.

Were you to employ three such professor-tutors, that would be about $10,200, or a bit over $20,000 a year. In four years you would have racked up $80,000 in costs. But this is still $30,000 less than the total for the ‘cost conscious’ universities. It is a quarter of what you would pay for Trinity.

Remember: this $80,000 is for private tutoring, where individual attention would give you far and away a better and more thorough education than the 300-kids-in-a-lecture-hall style of classes that dominate undergraduate education today.

But it can get even cheaper. Let’s say you take the general principle of group classes from the university. Say you can find four other people to take all of these other classes with you. Just four. Well that equals out to $680 per class, or $16,000 a person for four years of classes.

To be fair, add in $1000 for textbooks and a subscription to JSTOR, for a total of about 17,000 to 18,000 for four years.

Modern universities are insane.

For the vast majority of human history universities as we conceive of them did not exist. The modern university system did not produce the Mahabharata, The Aeneid, or The Tale of Genji. The modern university system did not produce Ibn Khaldun, Thomas Aquinas, or Alexis de Tocqueville. The universities John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison attended looked or functioned very little like Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton do today. Men like Abraham Lincoln are evidence that a deep reading and appreciation for the liberal arts do not require formal education at all. Make no mistake about it: the humanities existed before the modern university department was conceived; they will exist long after the modern university department has been destroyed.

I would like to see something along the lines of a “liberal education” preserved. But do the math. The important elements — the students, the books, the teachers — can be provided for at under $20,000 a year, and that is with paying the teachers $20 more an hour than they are currently earning. Any attempt to reform the current university system must take this fact as its foundation.


  1. Anonymous Machine says:

    Partially due to taxpayer “generosity”, but in-state tuition to many public universities costs less than $20,000 a year. While tuition costs are out of control, some of the eye-popping student loan balances are due to student choices to attend more expensive, out-of-state universities, while not being eligible or not trying to access scholarships, etc.

  2. Wilson says:

    Grade-school spending is approaching $20k per head.

  3. Off The Street says:

    Home schooling growth should come as no surprise, given the diluted missions of primary, secondary and tertiary education. Good luck finding out and learning about Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln unless you really look, and are prepared to endure some discomfort in the process.

    John Gatto was right in his indictment of American education.

  4. Grasspunk says:

    And you get the benefit of Bloom’s 2-sigma problem/mastery learning which I learned from some crazy site called

  5. Ted says:

    The higher education bubble will pop, but it will probably require a larger economic crisis along with some structural changes that hit a tipping point. It’s coming.

  6. TRX says:

    Colleges aren’t selling education. You can get education for free — sometimes even from those same colleges, which are increasingly putting their entire curricula online.

    What colleges are selling are credentials, which are not the same as education.

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