Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and technology and media investor, is getting some buzz around the web for his blog post "The Coming Meltdown in College Education & Why the Economy Won't Get Better Any Time Soon."
It's worth paying attention whenever a billionaire, particularly one with a track record of interesting ideas and access to a wide audience, weighs in on higher education. What I find most interesting, and disturbing, about Mark Cuban's take on higher ed is not what he says, but what he does not say. At no time does he bother to take on his home state's systematic disinvestment in higher education.
Rather than seeing the problems of higher education through the lens of inadequate funding to our public institutions, particularly our community colleges and particularly in Texas, Cuban chooses to brand us educators as "a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world."
"It’s just a matter of time until we see the same meltdown in traditional college education. Like the real estate industry, prices will rise until the market revolts. Then it will be too late. Students will stop taking out the loans traditional universities expect them to. And when they do tuition will come down. And when prices come down universities will have to cut costs beyond what they are able to. They will have so many legacy costs, from tenured professors to construction projects to research they will be saddled with legacy costs and debt in much the same way the newspaper industry was. Which will all lead to a de-levering and a de-stabilization of the University system as we know it...... And it can’t happen fast enough." (emphasis mine).
Cuban's solution for the problems of higher ed seem to be some combination of for-profit education, open learning, and online education. He writes:
"While colleges and universities are building new buildings for the English, social sciences and business schools, new high end, un-accredited , BRANDED schools are popping up that will offer better educations for far, far less and create better job opportunities....... The competition from new forms of education is starting to appear. Particularly in the tech world. Online and physical classrooms are popping up everywhere. They respond to needs in the market. They work with local businesses to tailor the education to corporate needs. In essence assuring those who excel that they will get a job. All for far far less money than traditional schools. The number of people being prepared for the work world in these educational environments is exploding."
Perhaps Cuban should read Penn's Institute for Research on Higher Education's report "Hard Choices Ahead: Performance and Policy in Texas Higher Education."
Cuban seems uninterested in the fact that in his home State "ranks 39th among states in the share of adults ages 25 and older who have earned at least an associate degree, at 32%."
The main reason that higher ed has gotten so much more expensive for individual students is that public funding has eroded so dramatically. The report notes that:
"The share of community college expenses that is covered by state appropriations has fallen drastically, from 61% in 1985 to 28% in 2007, and local taxes and tuition have had to make up the difference."
The report concludes, with dramatic understatement, that "Texas is not meeting the fiscal needs of its community colleges, despite their huge role in postsecondary education."
If Mark Cuban is interested in participating in finding real solutions to improve higher education then he should spend his time (and his dollars) lobbying Governor Perry and the Legislature to restore funding to Texas' public institutions (especially community colleges).
I'm not holding my breath.