Policy Group Suggests Limiting Tenure and Encouraging Use of Community Colleges to Reduce Costs

November 10, 2010

There is a growing consensus that the cost of a college education will have to fall significantly to greatly increase the number and proportion of American students who complete a postsecondary degree.

In response to that idea, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, using a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, is releasing a book-length report on ways that colleges can help a greater number of students earn their degrees at a lower cost to those students as well as taxpayers. The center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "researching the rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education," its Web site says.

The first installment of the series, "25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College," scheduled to be released today, includes five chapters exploring lower-cost alternatives to higher-education practices. The chapters recommend encouraging more students to attend community colleges, promoting dual-enrollment programs for high-school students to earn college credits, offering three-year bachelor's degrees, and outsourcing services and operations.

Some of the recommendations may, however, spark some controversy, such as one to reduce the number of faculty members who receive tenure.

"A decision to award tenure often means making a financial commitment with a discounted present value of $2-million or more," the report says. Instead of awarding tenure, colleges could offer long-term contracts that provide some job security and protect academic freedom without binding the university to a permanent position, the center suggests. Or tenure could be made part of a package of fringe benefits that faculty members could give up in lieu of some other benefits, the report says, such as a more-generous health insurance plan or greater employer contributions to a retirement plan.

Four more chapters will be released in subsequent weeks, covering the 20 remaining cost-cutting proposals. They will focus on the broad themes of using fewer resources, using resources more efficiently, exploiting technology to reduce costs, and improving competition to encourage cost cutting.