Adjust course fees so that those who will earn more will pay more

Dean Machin, Times Higher Education, Nov 06, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I've heard this silly argument about tuition fees on numerous occasions before, and the practice - known as 'differential fees' or a 'differential fee structure' - is actually in place in some colleges and universities. The proposal is that "Fee caps that reflect the relative economic returns of different course choices would help students make more informed decisions." The intuition here is that students should pay a fee based on a percentage of the benefit they receive. But the argument is also place in a context of risk: the university should assume some of the risk inherent in teaching low-value programs, like philosophy and dramatic arts.

But of course this is ridiculous (and not only because of the 'institutional conservatism' that is the author's straw man objection). It presumes that future earnings are the only benefit the institution and society receive from offering a course, which is absurd. And why would 'risk' be segmented according to course and program. Many other factors effect earnings. Maybe women should be charged lower fees because they earn only two thirds of what men earn. Perhaps people from Nottingham should pay almost nothing. Perhaps left-wingers should receive lower fees because they're much more likely to join non-profits like Medecins Sans Frontiers. Let's represent this proposal for what it really is: yet another scheme to increase tuition fees (and incidentally, to favour the upper class white men who already dominate access to the higher-paying professions).

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