THE BLOG
06/29/2010 12:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Modest Free Market Proposal for Education Reform

Times are tough for public universities. Over the past quarter century, state legislatures have slashed college budgets; cuts that have only accelerated during this economic meltdown. We have been told to do more with less, make sacrifices, and be self sufficient--and I couldn't agree more. Unlike those socialists lining up to mainline milk from the nanny state, there are many of us who favor fiscally sound solutions. We should teach our children well by following dogmatically free market principles that reject government meddling.

My modest proposal is multi-pronged and forward thinking. It would hand over all aspects of academic life to private companies, creating a university system that is more efficient, profitable even. In re-imagining how higher education can be rebooted, we need to ask ourselves, "What would a liberal arts education look like if McDonalds funded it?" Killing many birds with one lethal stone, we can simultaneously solve the problems created by overstuffed state budgets, overpaid professors, and--as an added, unexpected bonus--plagiarism. Let me explain.

The first part of the plan involves the sponsorship of classes, in which companies would exchange cash and services for the prominent placement of their logos on syllabi and in teaching spaces. This is a no-brainer, especially because on-campus branding has expanded in recent years. Under this plan, rational economic decisions would play a greater role in determining course offerings; less popular, unprofitable classes would necessarily fall by the wayside.

My second proposal will be more controversial, for it involves radically rethinking the way undergraduate students approach their coursework. These days, professors fret over undergrads using the services of "research assistance" companies--businesses that sell finished papers on every imaginable subject. Rather than siding with these fuddy-duddies, we should instead embrace this shift in student work habits. After all, the free market is influencing the decisions our students make, and it would be disastrous to regulate an emerging marketplace during these uncertain times.

It also seems morally wrong to force undergrads to waste their time on reading, researching, writing, and revising when their labor could be better spent working service jobs and other entry-level positions. This will allow them to buy pre-packaged papers and still have spending money left over to inject into the economy--a win-win.

Only lazy students who are not gainfully employed would lose out. Additionally, those who carefully manage their money (or whose families have already done so) can purchase higher quality papers that will earn them better grades: a one-dollar, one-vote approach to learning. While it is true that this shift in pedagogy will hurt some businesses--such as companies that produce plagiarism-detecting software such as TurnItIn.com--, the overall fiscal impact for society will be positive.

The third and final part of my plan takes the economic potential of education to the next level, offering great rewards with virtually no risk. Still, I anticipate that some old school professors will be alarmed by my suggestion that we should use this new education/business model to train future faculty. It's only fair that if we allow undergraduates to use research assistance companies, grad students should be allowed to do so as well. One such business, PhD-Dissertations.com, is leading the charge on this front. (When I first came across this website, I thought, Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Talk about an untapped market!)

By no longer having to conduct original research themselves, graduate students will have more hours to spend in the classroom as adjunct instructors. Let's do the math. PhD-Dissertations.com charges $17.00 per page, which adds up to $3,400 for a 200-page dissertation (plus, their website states that, "A discount of 10% applies to orders of 75+ pages!"). Although this might seem like a lot of money, consider the fact that most colleges pay adjuncts roughly the same, between $3,000 and $4,000, for each course taught per semester. Therefore, by just adding one extra course to his or her roster, a graduate student can pay for an entire dissertation in less than one academic year--while at the same time serving the university's undergraduate teaching needs. Once this new generation of scholar/project managers enters the profession, there will be no more need for traditional professors.

Following this course of action, universities can be transformed into a well-oiled machine that will generate more credit hours and, therefore, more tuition dollars. For years, college deans have argued that we need to find cheaper ways to process more students through the system. Predictably, many tenured radicals derisively use the phrase "credit factory" to describe this approach, but I think the industrial process is an apt metaphor for how universities should conduct their business. Fast food is another good model to follow, a point that is underscored on PhD-Dissertations.com's Frequently Asked Questions page:

Will the material be one-of-a-kind and unique?
Yes, of course. As they say at Jack-in-the-Box, "We don't make it until you order it." We write all custom research materials from scratch, based on the specifications provided to us. Unlike other services with no sense of academic integrity, we do not copy-and-paste from writings that are freely available on the Internet.

Some will surely complain about this approach's "intellectually corrosive" effects, but these people--who have a practically medieval, pre-capitalist concept of what universities should do--are wrong. In fact, a legitimized research assistance industry will most definitely improve the quality of scholarly research and writing. Because these companies exist in the private sector, they naturally do a more efficient job than researchers in bloated college bureaucracies, which have extensive, wasteful workforce redundancies. In today's universities, some scholars examine similar topics, but using different perspectives. In other words, they hire multiple people to do a job fit for one!

Corporate research factories, on the other hand, can maximize the resources needed to produce top-notch scholarship better than any state-funded school. This is because research assistance companies have a streamlined division of labor: one specialized staff researcher writes, another proofreads, a different employee fact checks, and another administrator can manage the whole project. As is noted on the homepage for Student Network Resources, which owns PhD-Dissertations.com, "we created a highly advanced project management system for clients and writers to connect on a large scale;" only in the private sector can you achieve this level of efficiency.

Hard times call for tough choices and new ideas, which my plan will deliver. By creating synergistic links between universities and corporate sponsors--and by privatizing the work done by undergraduate student/workers and professors-in-training--we can create a lighter, leaner educational system that can better adapt to the realities of a changing world. More importantly, this approach will foster economic growth by turning the process of learning into a frictionless series of commodity exchanges. After all, what could go wrong?