I don’t think that education is expensive in essence. For the vast majority of classes, you need an instructor, some books, and a room with adequate seating and a chalkboard. It probably helps to pay the instructors something like a decent middle-class salary, both to keep them happy and to help make sure the students respect them, but that isn’t that expensive to do. Labs might complicate matters, but I’d imagine that adequate facilities for the basic classes can be had cheaply.
You know what is expensive, though? Buildings! And debt service on the buildings! And administrative overhead! (How much of the cost savings from the use of adjunct labor has gone toward the added administrative hassles that would obviously grow out of using an ever-changing army of part-time instructors?) And student services! (How about instead of having a counseling center on campus, we just let the kids find a psychologist on their own, using the health insurance they’re legally obligated to have? How about instead of a vast student life apparatus to get them socializing, we just have them constantly live and work around people their own age and let them do the work?) And athletics, which add to all the other three — and let’s not even talk about athletic scholarships!
All of this is abundantly obvious. Yet all we ever hear about is labor costs and the need for greater “efficiency” — such as the use of online programs, which tend to be staffed by part-timers (i.e., more administrative overhead) and require vast technological apparatuses to work (i.e., more money on technology and more IT people). After all, if costs are going up, the only possible cause is labor costs or low labor productivity. It can’t be that administrators are overpaying themselves. It can’t be that universities are continually investing in expensive boondoggles — new athletic facilities, campus expansions, satellite campuses, etc., etc.
No, it can’t be that univerisities are, by and large, poorly managed by overpaid empty suits who blindly imitate corporate models in a setting where that’s completely inappropriate and even destructive. No, it has to be the workers’ fault, because it’s always and everywhere the workers’ fault. The workers must learn to do more with less — while the managers always figure out ways to do less with more and more and more. Because, I mean, what do those overpaid professors even do? Sure wish I got the summers off!