For much of the 20th century, a college education was affordable for many Americans.
After World War II, the federal government offered the GI Loan, which allowed
millions of service people returning from duty to pay for college. This program
continues and has been enhanced by the various branches of the military with incentives
and grants. State governments also paid for much of the expense of college through
general tax revenue, allowing many students to essentially attend college for
free. State and federal governments, in addition to private charities, also provided
grants. And financial institutions provided low interest loans for students to
pay for a college education. However, beginning in the 1980s, the prospect of
individuals going to college has become more out of reach for many Americans as
the costs of higher education have skyrocketed beyond the ability for family income
and all the aid mentioned above to make it affordable.
In this lesson,
students examine how the price of a higher education increased well beyond families'
ability to pay causing many to question whether higher education's business model
is working. Students will review key points of the opposing sides and either debate
the issue or write an OP/ED persuasive article discussing the issue, conclude
whether the business model is broken, and provide recommendations on where it can be improved.
Opening Activity: Chart Review
Begin this lesson by writing up on the
board the resolution from the Miller Center Debate Series on the Cost of Higher
Resolved: "The business model for higher education is
Tell students that the next series of activities are to
prepare them to effectively address this resolution and arrive at a conclusion
that either supports or rejects it.
You might consider spending a little
time explaining the concept of a business model. Tell students that a business
model describes the rationale for how an organization creates, delivers, and captures
value. Related to higher education, a business model defines the purpose of colleges
and universities, identifies what they offer to their customers, how they execute
these offerings, how they're structured and how they operate. Spend a little time
discussing with students how the business model for higher education works in
these terms. Be sure to point out that in addition to offering an advanced education
to students, higher education is also expected to provide the opportunity for
this education to as wide a range of the public as possible. In addition, higher
education is also expected to instill civic and community leadership (the essential
skills for a democratic society) to all its "customers."
give students a sense of the recent increased costs for higher education and how
these increased costs might affect their family's budget. Share with them the
charts on Page 3 of the PDF. (This handout can be made as a transparency or
distributed to students individually.) You might consider whether students will
need explanations of terms like median and quintile before having students examine
The first chart compares the growth of tuition and fees to
the growth of a median family income and a variety of other spending categories
from 1992-2007. Point out to students how the cost of higher education as gone
up by nearly 450 percent while median family income rose only 147 percent. Then
point out the second chart which compares net college costs (tuition, room, and
board minus financial aid) at public four-year and two-year colleges to median
family income by quintile (income level).
After students have reviewed
the charts, discuss the following questions:
- What does the first chart
- Why do you think the cost of higher education in the United
States has risen at such a rate in the past 15 years and the other categories
- How do you think these higher costs affect the
opportunities for everyone to get a college education?
- Now study the
chart on college costs compared to median family income. Compare the percentage
of a family's income needed to pay for a four-year and two-year college between
the lowest income quintile and the highest. What is the difference? Why does it
take a greater percentage of lower income families' budgets to pay for college
than higher income families?
- Now compare the rate of increase from 1999-2000
to 2007-2008 in the lowest and highest quintile. What is the difference? Why do
you think the percentage increase is greater for lower income families than higher
- Based purely on income, from which segment of society
are students most likely to go to college? What options besides family resources
do lower income students have to pay for college?
- From what you see in
these charts, do you believe higher education's business model is broken? Explain.
Part 1: The Effect of rising cost in higher education on student
In Part 1 of the main activity, students will examine
how the rising costs of higher education are making it more difficult for students
in lower and middle class families to go to school. The NewsHour Extra Video Clipboard
Costs Rising at Unprecedented Rate" tells the story of the difficulty
many students have paying for college even with government aid. This activity
is self contained on the website and can be done in small group or individually.
Discussion questions are at the bottom of the webpage. Students can also post
comments on the blog.
Part 2: Arguments For and Against Review
Part 2 of the main activity, students will examine many of the arguments supporting
or rejecting the resolution that the business model for higher education is broken.
Either share with students the main points of the Background
Reading or have students read it themselves. This can be given as homework
the night before you begin the main activity.
Divide students into groups
of four. Distribute the student handout "Arguments for and against the resolution
'the business model for higher education is broken'" to all students. Have
the students work in their groups to review both sides of the argument and discuss
At this point you can decide to have the groups of four
students hold debates on the topic or move to the Assessment section and write
an OP/ED piece for a local newspaper or online publication. You can also have
students do both. Students should make recommendations they feel would improve
higher education's efforts to provide a better product for its customers. Tell
students that they should focus on one aspect or area where they feel improvement
can be made.
You might elect to have students do some more research on
the two sides from outside sources. One source is the Miller Center of Public
Affairs debate on this topic at http://millercenter.org/public/debates/ed_cost. There
students can find a copy of the white paper that the debate points were derived
from. Students can also find related articles and reports on the topic and a video
of the debate held at the Center. If you have students hold their own debates,
you might want to hold off having them view the video until their debates are
Have students write a position paper
as to whether they believe the business model for higher education is broken.
Students' work should include an introduction, a review of the main points for
each side, their thoughts on which arguments they feel are strongest, and a conclusion
supported with facts from their research.