Dr. Robert Weissberg, author of “Bad Students, Not Bad Schools,” presented his lecture “Cutting Tuition while Learning Economics” on Wednesday, March 19 in Leffler Chapel and Performance Center. Weissberg discussed ways to effectively lower tuition costs at colleges.
He split tuition costs into three categories: academic, amenities and cultural engineering. Academic refers to money directly spent on students’ studies, such as classes and professor’s salaries. Academically speaking, Weissberg argued that costs should be increased rather than cut. Specifically, he discussed foreign language programs as essential to students’ understanding the world. “I think that languages are a portal to understand another country,” Weissberg said. He added that many colleges decrease the amount of foreign language courses they offer, limiting students’ knowledge of other cultures. It is difficult for people to learn a culture without learning the culture’s language first.
The second category Weissberg discussed was amenities. He said that colleges are becoming similar to all-inclusive resorts because of the many services offered, including health care and meal plans, but students cannot choose which services they prefer. In business, this action is called bundling. “People are spending a lot of money on things they realize they never use,” Weissberg said. He added that most students would spend less money if given the choice of what services they preferred. Weissberg called this choice “a la carte education” because students would be given the choice to pay for health care, meal plans or sports facilities.
Bundling the resources available to students makes them more dependent on others and more prepared to accept handouts, according to Weissberg. He used the analogy of dachshunds and bulldogs, who were originally bred as killer dogs; however, the dogs have been domesticated to the degree that they are docile breeds now. “Today’s students are being domesticated by universities into accepting handouts from above,” Weissberg said. One student agreed with his point that some students do not know how to live independently. She explained that when she had previously studied abroad in Ireland, she was given no meal plan and had to learn how to shop and cook for herself. However, she said that some students she knows at Etown cannot cook pasta in the microwave for themselves.
Weissberg’s third point was social engineering. He said that colleges should have transparency; when students pay tuition, they should be able to see all the different ways their tuition is being spent. “Students should be able to see where their money’s going,” Weissberg said. He also said large amounts of tuition costs go toward such things as education in diversity or helping charity organizations. Weissberg said that these extra costs are not the most crucial to students’ college education. According to Weissberg, although diversity is important, college is rarely the place that transforms students’ beliefs about the importance of diversity. He added that some colleges also force co-ed dorms and bathrooms upon students, in spite of both religious and comfort-related concerns. In such cases, Weissberg believes diversity should not be so greatly stressed.
Weissberg argued that if students want to raise money for a cause or learn to become financially independent, colleges should not hinder this. “There’s a deep connection between learning to do things yourself and appreciating your liberty,” he said. By allowing students to choose how to spend their money, he added that students often feel like they are more a part of the free market. Additionally, Weissberg said that there is a connection between work and earning money when a person needs to work for food. He stated that many students have never learned how to financially support themselves. This, he argued, may be a difficult skill to learn after college. However, Weissberg often has the most difficulty in convincing students to raise their own money. He said that people could raise money by charging others to join an organization or by working a job while studying at college. “If you want to have political freedom, get off the university dole,” Weissberg said.