Is Research Needed at Undergraduate Institutions?

I recently met Professor Vance Fried, who has made a compelling argument for creating a more affordable college experience while maintaining quality. Below are a few excerpts from his work – I wonder what your thoughts are?

“I didn’t cut any corners in designing CELS [note: College of Entrepreneurial Leadership & Society – a hypothetical college for purposes of demonstrating his ideas]. A laptop is included in tuition, there is a residential college system like Harvard and Yale, faculty are high quality, and the football stadium has a Jumbotron. However, I also didn’t waste any money. I followed a simple design premise: maximize value to the student. Determine what package of benefits (primarily learning) and price is attractive to them. If an activity has a high cost but provides a substantial benefit, then do it; but do it as efficiently as possible. If an activity adds significant cost but only minor benefits, don‟t do it. In sum, my guiding design principle for CELS was never spend money unless the resulting additional student benefit is clearly greater than the additional cost.

“Producing research is a costly undertaking. From society’s viewpoint, the costs of university research may be justified because it provides a public good, generating new innovation and knowledge in fields like medicine, engineering, and the hard sciences. However, these costs do not do much for educating most students. There may be benefits to the relatively few students in academic, research-oriented graduate programs, but most undergraduates or professional school students fail to ever benefit from these substantial research investments.

“For these reasons, research should be largely eliminated at public regional colleges and most private bachelor’s colleges, whose core business is to educate undergraduates. In these colleges, faculty research activity should range from nonexistent to modest. On the other hand, public and private research universities do have a major research mission. Here, care must be taken to insure that research does not reduce the quality of undergraduate education and that it is not financially subsidized by money meant to be going to education. Research is a legitimate, major E&G cost, but this cost should not be passed on to students in the form of higher tuition.”

Read for yourself: “Opportunities for Efficiency and Innovation: A Primer on How to Cut College Costs,” by Vance Fried.  A pdf is available at http://www.aei.org/papers/education/opportunities-for-efficiency-and-innovation-a-primer-on-how-to-cut-college-costs/



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