I cannot help contrasting this situation with my own experience as a student, at a public university in Switzerland. I paid the equivalent of $35 a semester in tuition; halfway through my studies, the price was raised, after much protest, to $300. It was a fairly bare-bones experience: our professors were world class, but there was zero support for students. We had no advisers, no writing center, no extracurricular activities, no dorm – we didn’t even have a graduation ceremony. Because the cost was so low, however, we had remarkable freedom – freedom to take as many seminars as we wanted, to space out our exams, to try out new subjects, and more generally, to take as long as we wanted. I spent six years as an undergraduate, the norm at the time (although you could technically graduate in four).I have been wondering why all colleges seem to be caught up in the race to draw students with more and better facilities and programs. Why don't some colleges try offering a Swiss-style alternative, with a bare-bones experience at a lower price? Obviously in the US that price would be a lot higher than $300 a semester, but I read that 70% of the cost of college is for things other than instruction. It ought to be possible, it seems to me, to offer academic instruction at a college level for half the usual tuition. Most students might choose a place that offers a richer experience anyway, but surely some would appreciate quality teaching at a lower price.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
A Different Kind of College Experience
Dan Edelstein, a French professor at Stanford, compares a Stanford education to what he received in Switzerland: