Walter Russell Mead describes how the cash crunch is hollowing out the university operating model.
What's going on here, however, is less about quality than it is about money and the outmoded foundations of American institutions and practices built in the post World War Two era. The baroque inefficiency of the academic enterprise--and especially the research model university, which transposes a vision of the intellectual life from the hard sciences and engineering into the social sciences and the humanities--has built a system that demands enormous outside resources to continue to function.
In a handful of cases, notably the best endowed private universities, there is enough money on hand to make this system work. But less affluent private universities and virtually all public universities face a harsher climate. And as state governments in particular face claims on their tight revenues from more powerful constituencies than university faculty and staff, the public universities are being systematically starved of cash.
Most universities are asking themselves: "how can we lean down our operations to survive this temporary cash crunch?" They make small cuts here and there -- deflating a balloon but keeping all the structure in place until more air is available to blow things back up again. But the money isn't coming back. The real question they need to ask is: "how can we thrive with [a lot] less money per student?" This will require re-inventing the whole operating model, not just saving nickels and dimes.
My daughter's college experience in 15 years will be completely different than mine was.