The Cost Of Education

Normally when someone mentions “the cost of education,” they are talking about college tuition. That’s because it comes directly out of pocket. The costs of elementary and secondary schools are indirect costs, paid for by taxes. Since these costs are hidden costs, people don’t talk much about them. I talk about them only because I’ve been paying taxes for elementary and secondary education all my life, but I’ve never had any kids to benefit from it. And the people who have kids that do benefit get tax deductions. That is about as inequitable as you can get.

So let’s talk about the direct costs of education. I say let’s talk about it, knowing full well that I’m doing the ‘talking’ and you are reading it. I won’t hear what you think unless I write something that makes you angry. Then you will email me and say nasty things. So I’ll try not to make you angry. However, if you have kids, it pisses me off that I have had to foot more of their “indirect” education costs than you have.

The local community college just sent me their “Continuing Education & Workforce Development” bulletin for the spring. I have occasionally taken courses there that interested me, so I always look to see what they have to offer. The first course I took there was “Learn How to Juggle.” It could have been an accounting course, but it wasn’t. It was one of the few courses I’ve ever taken that I can truly say I have never forgotten any of what I learned. And it’s been over 20 years ago. That’s the big difference between learning by doing and leaning by reading or listening.

Later I took a course called “Self Hypnosis.” The instructor taught us how to hypnotize ourselves – or at least he taught some students. Every time he tried to hypnotize me, I fell asleep. He considered me a special case and had to confer with his colleagues – to no avail. To this day I remain an impossible case. It was money wasted since I already knew how to fall asleep – especially in class.

The bulletin offered a course I was interested in as an academic. The course was “Lean Six Sigma.” I read about it and was briefly excited about it – as much as anyone can really get excited about a course in statistical measurement and process control. My enthusiasm quickly died when I saw that the cost of the course was $3000 plus $100 for the textbook. Yikes! How could this be? It was an 80-hour course, but that still computes to $38.75 an hour per student. That is triple what the undergraduates at my 4-year college are paying per hour of class. You don’t want to sleep in that class.

Right next to it was a course titled “Employee Relations and Labor Law.” The cost of it, figured on an hourly basis, was only $10,60. – a much more typical cost. Why was it so much cheaper? In fact most of the other course offerings were around $10 per hour. You could “Dance The Night Away” for $10 an hour, but only from 6:55 to 7:55 pm, which isn’t exactly dancing the night away. If you wanted to take a course in something practical (Electrical Wiring), it was only $6 per hour.

The real reason that Lean Six Sigma costs so much is that no one would ever take a course like that unless it was job-related and their employer wanted them to be certified in Six Sigma. Thus the course would be paid for from the “deep pockets” of corporate America and not by any one individual. And therein lies the secret of the cost of education - and a lot of other things. Put that philosophy into words it would be something like this: If the individual must pay for it (i.e. direct costs) keep the costs as low as possible. However, if an organization (Corporation or Government) pays for it, we can charge a lot more and no one will complain.

I put this phenomenon into what I call the “group” phenomenon. Individuals have accountability for their actions, decisions and expenses, but groups and organizations have a much more diluted accountability, if at all. Thus we as individuals are accountable for our direct expenses, while organizations tend not to be, and thus can be charged more for the same service.

Dr. Hossein Arsham, The Wright Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Baltimore, said it best. “...,my experience has shown that committees are used more to displace blame and accountability. I see no good in having group decision makers. Let one person be the decision maker; let one person be responsible and accountable. A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled. The greatest things are often accomplished by individual people, not by committees. What does it mean to say that a committee might have a responsibility? A committee cannot have a responsibility any more than the business can. The only entities that can have responsibilities are people.”

This explains much of our government’s spending. And so it is with the cost of education.