Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free: How to Decrease Cost and Increase Quality at American Universities

Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free: How to Decrease Cost and Increase Quality at American Universities

Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free: How to Decrease Cost and Increase Quality at American Universities

Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free: How to Decrease Cost and Increase Quality at American Universities


Universities tend to be judged by the test scores of their incoming students and not on what students actually learn once they attend these institutions. While shared tests and surveys have been developed, most schools refuse to publish the results. Instead, they allow such publications as U.S. News & World Report to define educational quality. In order to raise their status in these rankings, institutions pour money into new facilities and extracurricular activities while underfunding their educational programs.

In Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free, Robert Samuels argues that many institutions of higher education squander funds and mislead the public about such things as average class size, faculty-to-student ratios, number of faculty with PhDs, and other indicators of educational quality. Parents and students seem to have little knowledge of how colleges and universities have been restructured over the past thirty years.

Samuels shows how research universities have begun to function as giant investment banks or hedge funds that spend money on athletics and administration while increasing tuition costs and actually lowering the quality of undergraduate education. In order to fight higher costs and lower quality, Samuels suggests, universities must reallocate these misused funds and concentrate on their core mission of instruction and related research.

Throughout the book, Samuels argues that the future of our economy and democracy rests on our ability to train students to be thoughtful participants in the production and analysis of knowledge. If leading universities serve only to grant credentials and prestige, our society will suffer irrevocable harm. Presenting the problem of how universities make and spend money, Samuels provides solutions to make these important institutions less expensive and more vital. By using current resources in a more effective manner, we could even, he contends, make all public higher education free.


Universities are in crisis because they have lost their central identity. They were once defined by the twin goals of research and instruction, but now these two main activities are often lost in a sea of competing interests. It turns out that when a educational system or institution loses sight of its center, it spins out in many different directions, and these new interests can be very expensive and disorienting. In fact, I will argue that once a system is no longer focused on its central mission, it simultaneously increases its costs and decreases its quality. Thus, in the case of many American research universities, the more they spend, the more they often lower the quality of education and research. The explanation of this counterintuitive principle is that costs cannot be contained when there is no defining goal.

As a working definition, we can understand research to be the scientific, critical, and creative investigation of truth, and we can define instruction as the effective communication of that truth. The argument of this book, then, is that universities have lost their focus on research and instruction, and this loss of vision is the real, underlying crisis facing higher education. In other words, the movements of corporatization and privatization are only side effects of the main crisis, which is a loss of educational priorities.

Throughout this book, we will see that since there is no real institutional effort to judge and maintain quality research and instruction, false and misleading external forms of quality control are used instead, and these substitute forms end up increasing the crisis in universities. For instance, the U.S. News & World Report college rankings are used not only by students and parents to judge the quality of universities, but also by universities themselves to determine their own priorities. In this reverse . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.