Published on 2013/06/25

Price vs. Value: What Does a Degree Cost and What Is It Worth?

Price vs. Value: What Does a Degree Cost and What Is It Worth?
Low-cost higher education providers are pushing institutions across the country to cut costs to reduce the prices of their degree programs. However, these cost-saving measures are coming at the expense of the interpersonal interaction that makes higher education a valuable investment in the first place.

It costs about $10,000 for a bachelor’s degree in Texas. In Georgia, $7,000 for a master’s. Bill Gates predicted that, by 2015, a college education would cost $2,000 as a result of the growing use of technology.

We have MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) now, which are ‘free,’ but what is the value of these low-cost degrees in the market? How does the proliferation of degree programs designed to lower costs for students impact the competitiveness and commoditization of higher education?

We’ve heard the adage of the difference between price and value, what you pay for an item and what it is worth to you. But what about in terms of a degree: is the value of a degree related to the price paid to obtain it? Does a lower-cost degree equate to a lower value for students over the course of their career? Or does it not matter how much the degree cost, just as long as the student has one?

In the undergraduate classroom, I often tell students they will get as much out of their education as they put into it, and that I’ll do my best to bring them solid theory, practical application ideas and reality-based examples to apply the theory in classroom discussion and projects — but how much they actually learn, use and apply to their life is up to them. Most students nod in agreement and begin a barrage of questions during the first class meeting.

As the quest for a lower-priced degree continues, the key question being asked in ivory towers across campuses is: how will we lower the cost while providing the same quality of education? Some areas could be reduced or removed. Faculty are a common area, either through larger class sizes, more adjunct instructors, more TAs and GAs and other tenured faculty labor-saving methods that vary from campus to campus. Technology is the key area currently focused on. Flipped classrooms, massive groups of students watching one lecture, then discussing in small groups or with TAs, is becoming more and more common. Artificial intelligence for grading student papers is beginning to grow, as with the widespread use of computer-based testing.

Yet the key issue here is the lack of person-to-person interaction.

Seemingly on the decline are the days of students and professors discussing, in a stately pillared college building, the merits of some philosopher, replaced with a lower-cost online discussion board where instructors pose questions for students to respond to and then have two more students asynchronously reply to other students to create ‘discussion.’ The cost might be lowered, but has the educational level also been lowered? Is that a good value in the long run?

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2013/06/25 at 11:41 am

I agree with DeLalla that there is immense value in face-to-face interaction between professors and students. Though it’s still too early to say definitively, research suggests there are positive results coming out of blended programs. A blended course seems to offer the best of traditional and online learning: a lowered cost, access to learning at your own pace and opportunities to interact face-to-face to discuss and analyze concepts. Perhaps we will see more of these blended options in the coming years.

Henry Smalling 2013/06/25 at 4:19 pm

I believe online education could actually be the solution to the challenges DeLalla identifies. He says that larger class sizes and the rise of non-tenured faculty threaten the quality of higher education, and I agree.

In their current configuration, traditional classrooms aren’t providing students a quality learning experience. However, by moving a course online, students may actually end up with more interaction with their professor.

While it can be difficult for one person to address a class of 300 through face-to-face interaction, it is easier to imagine that person hosting an online discussion and responding to written questions. Students would not only interact with the professor, they would also be able to interact with others in the discussion and see their questions. This type of peer-to-peer exchange doesn’t currently exist in most traditional classrooms, particularly if a student visits the professor during office hours to ask a question. With online education, there is the potential to create interactive opportunities.

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