The economics of college vs. the economics of private tutors

How can you possibly justify a $200,000+ college expense? How can you justify a $100,000+ college expense?

This is not necessary.

The average tenure hopeful adjunct makes $40 an hour. If you were to employ her as a private tutor at the cost of $60 an hour, and had four hours with her a week, and did that for 14 weeks (that’s the length of an average college course folks) that is about $3,400.

Were you to employ three such professor-tutors, that would be about $10,200, or a bit over $20,000 a year. In four years you would have racked up $80,000 in costs. But this is still $30,000 less than the total for the ‘cost conscious’ universities. It is a quarter of what you would pay for Trinity.

Remember: this $80,000 is for private tutoring, where individual attention would give you far and away a better and more thorough education than the 300-kids-in-a-lecture-hall style of classes that dominate undergraduate education today.

But it can get even cheaper. Let’s say you take the general principle of group classes from the university. Say you can find four other people to take all of these other classes with you. Just four. Well that equals out to $680 per class, or $16,000 a person for four years of classes.

To be fair, add in $1,000-$2,000 for textbooks and a subscription to JSTOR, for a total of about $17,000 to $18,000 for four years.

That is from Scholars Stage from 2018, still relevant today.  (He went to the very reasonably priced Brigham Young University.)  As I’ve said before, contemporary university study should have more of both on-line education and private tutoring, and less of what comes in between.


How high are the GRE scores of those earning degrees at a very reasonably priced Brigham Young University?

I don't have data on GRE scores, but our avg incoming freshman have very good ACT/SAT scores (28.6 ACT):

We routinely send students students from my department (chemical engineering) to top-10 graduate schools with excellent GRE scores. When I say routine, I mean it; every year we send several.

Tuition rate for LDS students: $3K/semester. Tuition rate for non-LDS students: $6K per semester. We are routinely rated as one of the top (if not the top) school for "best value" of education.

He was mocking Tyler's bizarrely stubborn insistence that the GRE is a valuable signal of, well, anything.

I see. Sarcasm is sometimes hard to read. I had read it differently.

There are so many essential jobs now you don't need to go to college.

Didn't we basically agree that the economic value of college isn't about the knowledge and skills?

Scholars Stage mentions the signalling theory only to handwave it away as insufficient to explain the amount that college costs. But the "Varsity Blues" scandal found people willing to pay lots of money for someone else to take their classes just so they could get the certificate! As the the college wage premium goes up (due the falling returns for the average non-college worker), so does the amount people are willing to pay. And since much of that cost is subsidized, they aren't even paying it all themselves.

+1. Somebody needs to read more Kaplan.

But if that is true, how do we justify public subsidies for college?

Not that I am much of a fan of public subsidies for college, but the value being somewhere else than skills and knowledge does not imply it is nonexistent.

Sure, to that individual... But the other sources of 'value' (e.g., signaling) are zero-sum, which means there is no net gain for society.

The only reason for society to subsidize higher education is if society gains.

"college isn't about the knowledge and skills?"

Just curious. How many here think they didn't learn anything in college?

I learned plenty of things in college. Just not anything I couldn't easily pick up outside of college today.

Looking back, a ton of what they taught, outside of my more mathematically inclined courses, was opinion, and an ideologically motivated one at that.

Not all opinions are equal. Hopefully you learned argumentation, but it doesn't look like it.

This analysis misses out a lot of the knowledge sharing and economies of scale between tutors, though. If every tutor has to prepare their own lesson plans, teaching materials, and bear their own administrative overhead, costs can easily triple or quintuple. Contractor rates are typically much higher than salaried.

There's also additional cost incurred for matching the private tutor to the student — there'll be a few well known superstar tutors commanding sky-high prices, but beyond these people you'd largely have to rely on recommendations and word-of-mouth to find a tutor, and much greater risk with doing so — an ineffective but charismatic tutor could easily teach many students before being exposed for a fraud.

With organizations of tutors, a lot of these issues can be mitigated, but the more organized it is the more it'll look like universities sans amenities and facilities — both of which could do with some cutting anyway.

Re; scale, seems like if all students tried to "contract" individual tutors for sessions, scarcity of tutors would mean they'd enter a bidding war.

Consortia of students could try and pool tutors to keep costs low, effectively recreating classes, but then what are the regulation costs they'd start to face; if member X of the consortia feels unfairly treated, who does she she? Etc.

Think on the margin. There are a lot PhDs out there who were unable to find even steady adjunct positions and who've dropped out of university teaching entirely. So many students could take this approach without creating shortages. But that really isn't the point of the thought experiment -- the point is how absurdly expensive higher-education has become when, in principle, it would be just as cheap for any one of those 400 students in the big lecture hall to hire their own lecturer as an individual tutor instead.

"you'd largely have to rely on recommendations and word-of-mouth to find a tutor, and much greater risk with doing so"

You may be overestimating the degree of quality control in university teaching.

Background: over 25 years as university faculty, including serving as Associate Chair for Undergraduate studies (yes, I did make some attempt to alleviate the problem). Plus having been an undergraduate many years ago, of course.

An anecdote... A comment on a (fairly recent) student evaluation for one of my courses said, "there's nothing stupid about this course". Seems like faint praise - until you think about what past experiences the student must have had.

Very cool analysis, but I do not think it holds any merit for "Job placement" which is the intention of 95% of students.

In our current market, the function of a degree is not the education it is in the position you are able to get from holding the degree.

The big issue is how would you KNOW the private tutored student is good if there was no reputation of the tutor. Are you going to test the candidate? The big issue is not in 'education,' it is in the fact that employers and investors are terrible judges of a candidates education and rely on these institutions to test and sort the students.

It's beyond a broken system and not good at finding the most intelligent people. But it is better than nothing, or at least it is easier and repeatable.

I think the Theranos disaster is actually a good example. Look at all these people who were duped by this young woman, who did not even graduate... why?

Because she was connected in the Standford community. And sold her insider status for access to funding. It is beyond frustrating when there are legitimate companies putting out novel business models in health care that are difficult to understand. That are not part of the Stanford community and do not have access to seed capital.

Ie Tyler, You have said of my work, "I agree If I understand" meaning it takes work to for you, a highly educated person to check if an idea is valid or not.

Universities save employers that real work of checking.
Is this a good system... probably not.

But tutors do not fix this issue.

We really need to decouple "Job Placement" from "Education" discussion, as they are completely entangled and incredibly different. If not related.

"I think the Theranos disaster is actually a good example. Look at all these people who were duped by this young woman, who did not even graduate... why?"

Why?? Holmes is a visionary female dropout in tech who wears black turtle necks - that's why!

For the reasons you mention, tutors are an especially good fit when there is a well-designed, independent test to study for - like the GRE or MCAT. Then the score on test certifies the student's legitimacy, and for this they don't need to affiliate with some fancy institution.

Unfortunately nobody can just test their way to a college degree. There is the GED for high school, and there is a pile of Advanced Placement exams that can colleges take in the place of coursework, but the pile is not so big that it would cover even the freshman year of college. But it doesn't sound impossible for an organization like the College Board (who also write the SAT in addition to the AP tests) might make enough tests to add up to the equivalent of a two-year junior college degree.

This is more like the future of education that I want: self-driven, self-paced learning with lots of online resources, private tutors for interaction, support and getting unstuck, and assessment that is done by independent organizations that know how to reliably design tests.

But even if this actually works, it's a separate question whether recruiters and HR departments will weigh demonstrated skills on validated tests as highly as they weigh a degree from a recognized university. I have my doubts.

A part of the reason why the current system sort of works is that the fancy universities have very selective admissions committees. Their calls are arbitrary only on the margins. On they whole, they do a decent job sorting students by merit, and they do this partly by placing a lot of weight on validated, standardized tests, and by using statistical wizardry to translate grades from a particular high school into a fairly objective and reliable metric of academic merit. Everybody else then just piggybacks on the work of those selection committees, assuming (reasonably) that a "worthy" 17-year-old applicant will be an adequate 22-year-old hire.

Really great points! I completely agree that the tutor model works very well when there are standardized tests. And this goes to show, that the tutor cannot be independently trusted to also proctor the exam, as their would be a huge incentive for the tutor to pass students-- inflating their reputation. You can argue that exists already in education, but it is mitigated by the institutions the teachers are a part of.

Actually, at this point you can basically test through most of the first 2 years of college with CLEP exams. I passed the BIO CLEP from just paying attention to BIO in high-school. But the larger point is that "the fancy universities have very selective admissions committees.... Everybody else then just piggybacks on the work of those selection committees, assuming (reasonably) that a "worthy" 17-year-old applicant will be an adequate 22-year-old hire."

I think this is the real meat. In fact, I think this where a principle could come in. Employers are making hiring decisions but those decisions are predicated on the previous decisions in the candidates profile. The total amount of filtering that you the employer provides to the filtering equation is low, and gives you a significant reduction of your responsibility for the hire.

What do I mean. All hires are in some ways risky. The chances are that you are more likely to get an under-performing candidate, than an average or over-performing candidate.  If we just assume that good performing employees are more likely to be held by their current firms and not looking to switch. (So the best ideal candidates are not even in your pool of options).

This means that those selections committees, for access to degrees are acting as protection for the employer's hiring manager to say... to the other execs. "I'm sorry it didn't work, I mean a Harvard grad, I thought they would be better!"

In this case the hiring manager is protected. However, if the hiring manager hired a privately educated person, and did extensive research into the candidates. There would be no history of previous selections. Let's just say, because the normal College grad goes through selection committees and has to deal with teachers and deans, their "overall filter" is made up of lets call it 30 people. In comparison, the person who has to review the tutored candidate takes on all the responsibility, and would be to blame for a mismatch. So even if the privately tutored candidate was the best match, compared to a traditional candidate, the risk to the hiring manager is much, much, higher to go with the privately tutored candidate, and so they never get hired.

So the original article may be right. That for the education itself it may be cheaper to hire tutors. It doesn't sort candidates. And would leave all the sorting to the employers, who are already using (to them) a more efficient process.

This would seem to create an area of opportunity surrounding testing/ validation of ability-- as extremely valuable independent of personal education.

Hell I tutor for $35, and people complain about my prices. Idk about $60.

I would say that the subjects I teach are pretty basic, with a few specialized courses that line up with the stuff I did in college. But there are thousands of courses on thousands of subjects, and you would need to find someone who happened to have specialized knowledge whenever someone would need it.

Colleges are effectively clearinghouses for that sort of information. So it's an interesting thought experiment, but idk how useful it is. And a large part of college is that the people teaching you are experts, not some random kid who happened to read the textbook and be decent at communication.

Although in many cases the so called experts are far less effective at teaching then the students are. And a lot of classes are taught by TAs anyhow (my first year classes were all TAs, even some sophomore level classes, and labs are run by GTAs). So there are similarities and differences. I dont think the two are very comparable ... but you do, of course, have to ask why is college so expensive.

It reminds me of a situation once where a college offered a student of mine a $5000 scholarship but he had to get an A in the class, and he was struggling. He payed me a total of around $1000 to teach the entire subject, and I did, and he got an A. That worked out.

The Scholars Stage example was limited to liberal arts only. Obviously a science degree and many others need a lab. But even then a private independent tutor isn’t going to be able to make a living tutoring - sure they may be able to cobble together three or four students a week - with no guarantee from one semester to the next - not enough to make a business of it. So really you have to think of a tutoring service with enough reliable work and a template for teaching, which takes care of student recruitment, and a reputation. Now you’re edging back to a small college model.

I agree, except for the last sentence. A small college model? What small college resembles a tutoring service?

I agree this is only for certain kinds of fields. Some of what is paid for at college is the physical plant- libraries (not everything is online), studios, labs, places to have hands on experience (botanical gardens, experimental agriculture just in one slice).

Plus, interactions with more than just one person, even in wordy fields of study, help a lot.

Of course college is overpriced. But it can’t be all substituted with a computer and a tutor.

I think you're missing the big point i.e., that our current model is wasting a ton of money (literally...$350K weights a lot)

Back in the old days, we used to call this value engineering.

The linked post is correct, but misses the interesting questions.
This deserves a longer reply, but I'll just sketch a few bullet points.

- Yes, the present model of university education is absurd, and many of us who are university faculty have thought (and said) this for years.
- A tutoring based model would be better for learning, more enjoyable for faculty, and cheaper.
- Why don't we do it? There are several reasons.
- (1) The goal of universities isn't just education, though we'd like to think this is the main goal. Universities are in large part about signaling that one is the type of student who goes to a university, and can show up and plod through classes, as Brian Caplan notes. It's also a place for social interactions, and to kill four years.
- (2) Students, especially 1st- and 2nd year students, and especially low- to mid-level students, hate a tutoring-type model. They really, really hate it. Asking them to read books (or even watch videos) and assess what they do or don't understand and then engage with faculty in dialog, is something they abhor. Why, then, are they in college? Most students cannot answer this question; they've been pushed into college by familial and societal expectations.
- (3) Assessment -- in person classes provide a simple way to administer exams and assign grades. One of the dismal, and under-discussed, failures of the present on-line classes is the high rate of cheating; assessments are losing value compared to the in-person approach. Of course, the tutoring model could also have strong assessments, but these would likely be of a form that (most) students dislike, despite their efficacy.

The interesting question is whether and how the current crisis will change all this -- will we move towards a more sensible system? This depends, I think, on whether universities still insist on charging ridiculous tuition for half-baked online instruction, when other universities can more easily poach their students; on whether students will finally protest high tuition; on whether universities will start rewarding students who have the initiative to learn materials on their own, etc.

For at least the last two decades, the question has been how to move from the present (nonsensical) stable point to a new one.

See, if I ran the HR department at some fancy firm, I suspect that I would really seek out the students who were self-driven enough to succeed at this "cheap" learning (online instruction, tutors for support, validated tests for assessment). I read that only 5% of the students who begin an online course actually finish it. Who are these people, and who is recruiting them? Isn't this an amazing filter for exactly the sort of qualities that matter in a good hire? Or are these people uncouth in some way that I'm not appreciating, and it really is better to hire the conventional applicant who spent four years at finishing school?

I focus on hiring decisions because that's the key domino in the chain. Once the successful online-lerner/tutee/serial-test-crusher is seen as a legit hire, he/she will also grow in status on the dating market, find less resistance from old-fashioned parents, and all the rest. But if that happens, many OK universities just die.

"Why, then, are they in college? Most students cannot answer this question; they've been pushed into college by familial and societal expectations."

Yes, that describes a big chunk of the student body.

More positively, however, there's a chunk of the student body for which these expectations mean that it's socially acceptable for them to spend four years doing whatever they find intellectually interesting, without people thinking that they're lazy bums who are "doing nothing".

Having followed MR and Tyler for years, and having read "The Case Against Education" by Bryan Caplan, there is certainly a lot of merit in the kind of argument Tyler is making here (though I do have a number of criticisms).

However, I think the value of a University as a "commitment device" is seriously underrated. The kind of thinking described by Tyler above assumes that one is a "Type A" kind of personality who is disciplined and interested enough to sit down and learn something. I think Tyler (and most of us who have PhDs) take this for granted because he has it in spades. My experience with young 18-25 year-olds says this just can't be assumed. For example: I once polled my class of junior engineering students and asked them how long they sat staring at a homework problem they didn't immediately know how to solve before they gave up. The median answer: under 30 seconds.

Content delivery of higher education has been available since the invention of the printing press. Discipline and willpower have been and will always be in short supply. Just think about how much easier it is for a young person to be on the high school football team and stay in shape, than to get up at 6 am and do two-a-day workouts on his/her own. A university has evolved over a very long time to solve a discipline problem*, not just a content delivery problem.

*Of course, it has many, many other functions as well.

Surely you're aware that being a typical undergrad is nothing like being on the football team. The typical undergrad academic experience involves doing the minimum, skipping lectures, skimming or not reading for discussion sections seminars, last minute cramming or BSing to crank out papers, etc.

Certainly some students do this, but from where I sit, most of my engineering students work much harder than this comment implies. Students in my courses report spending 2.5-3.5 hours per class period studying or doing homework. Given a typical couse load of 15 credits, this suggests students work around 40-50 hours a week (including time in class). Many of my students also have part-time jobs. I'm not saying they are all working CEO-level hours, but most of them are not on vacation.

My experience at 3 different universities in 3 different states suggests that this is pretty typical for an engineering student. I think it is very rare for someone to have the discipline to self-study highly technical subjects like differential equations, thermodynamics, or programming for 50+ hours a week.

Also, the fact that even lazy/unmotivated students feel the need to cram, should tell you that the University is working as a commitment device, since they are convinced they need to study *something.* I find that my students become *very* interested in knowing the material during the week of an exam.

This is the reason engineering pays well upon graduation: It's hard and demanding, the college actually did a fair bit of the filtering. An education degree provides no filtering. In fact, and education degree acts as the screen in the filter: All the stuff after you've cleaned up dinner that is caught in the trap at the bottom of the sink.

When I interview a newly minted engineer, we can talk about differential equations and there's a mutual admiration there. But int he end, the best way to find someone worth hiring is to find out how much engineering they like to so outside of work, and how far outside the box they've spread. By that, I mean if you find an electrical engineer that spends his weekends working on a motor controller for an electric motorcycles he's building, AND they had to teach themselves mechanical engineering tools such as Solidworks in order to design a 3D printed case for the controller---then you found a builder, a doer, and they are rare. They are usually the person that will be last to leave, and thinking about problems all weekend because they love to create and build. Hire them. Even if their college grades weren't great.

The college grad with a great GPA but has never built anything outside of school for the love of building isn't going to be a top problem solver. They likely want to go into management, and they can learn that skill on someone else's dime.


I hear comments like this from employers ALL THE TIME. It is one reason we are explicitly trying to incorporate experiential learning projects into our curriculum to get students engaged outside the classroom.

BTW, I look for the same thing when I hire grad students.

The problem I see with Tyler's analysis is that it focuses on experience on the cheapest majors to deliver. There is a lot of cross subsidization in higher ed. Sure, the Psychology 101 class can be delivered for much less, but the Engineering design course cannot. Of course a lot of business and social science majors are in degrees that are mostly about signaling and not worth $25k/yr. But the technical degrees are a different story. Is there a glut of PhD chemical engineers desperate for work at $40/hr? I doubt it. In my own field of physics, it is true that a lot of students pursuing a PhD want to be in an R1 and there simply aren't enough jobs. But I know of several small regional schools that struggle to fill positions because they cannot compete with the salaries outside of academia. I'm in an R1 and I just lost an astrophysicist to an aerospace company. I suspect that the same is true in computer science, math, and the engineering fields.

But let's set aside the problem of undercutting the revenue to subsidize the useful majors and assume we could replace the 300+ student classes (mostly lower level intro courses) with tutors. Who provides accreditation for those students? Who pays the overhead on the adjuncts? One way to solve that is to bundle the adjuncts into an institution that focus on just introductory courses. We could put one in each community and ensure that it provides low-cost education to students in a streamlined curriculum. Perhaps they could also provide vocationally directed training. Maybe we could call them "community colleges".

>Engineering design course

IDK. I took a lot of engineering 'design' courses....they are just textbooks and calculators/PCs, nothing magical or particularly expensive.

Ok you should have mentioned you were an engineering prof. Engineering is different. The math requirements and problem set based curriculum distinguish it from the rest of undergrad. If we restricted undergrad to students able and willing to do a rigorous engineering degree, the number of undergrads would shrink dramatically.

My bad.

I still think the university as a commitment device is underrated.

Engineering undergrad self selects for commitment. Kids know that engineering majors are the hardest and require the most work.

I second this as a prof at a top 10 liberal arts school. Virtually all of my students are high 1400 SAT/ 4.0 GPA with 5+ AP courses (or IB). Maybe 10% would complete a high quality empirical economics paper without the pressure of an in-person class and professor. One thing I have noted through the years is that my structured economics class term papers are often better then senior theses, because of the greater peer pressure and organization. Now, could we run a cheap, stripped down liberal arts model with decent pay and much lower tuition. Sure, if we skipped all the social justice nonsense and multiplying dean ships. Also, we would have to be able to exclude the students with mental problems.

Yep, there are several problems with the "let's just hire tutors" idea, this is one of the big ones.

Please explain how where you see the problem for the "let's just hire tutors" idea. What I read (and can corroborate with my own experience) is that many university engineering students lack the intellectual and academic virtues we would hope they'd have. And yet ... they're getting away with it! They may on average abandon a tough problem after 30 seconds, but have you seen their average salaries? This screams to me that their fancy jobs are going to the wrong people. Much saner would be a system where those undisciplined university loafers are passed up for those jobs in favor of the self-driven autodidact who circumvented the university system.

People with education-skeptical views like Caplan and Cowan must think that there is a huge and systematic inefficiency in the private sector talent seeking market. Why are the recruiters such suckers for the so-called sheepskin effect, when they could instead by recruiting young people with actual dive, grit and demonstrated skills? This is not an unfree market, so why is it so inefficient?

Whom does Peter Thiel hire? Why not declare "I will give you a $50,000 job if you defer your MIT acceptance by a year, and if we find it's working out, that offer will increase for the next year. And you might learn more as you're being paid by me than you would by paying MIT." It's basically off-loading the internal talent scouting to an outside organization - MIT admissions - who do all the legwork. Why hire an MIT graduate with a sheepskin, when you can get the same individual five years earlier, when they're even hungrier, more intellectually flexible, and far cheaper? It follows from Caplan's model that universities admissions committees are shockingly good at identifying talent: They allegedly add very little subsequent value, and yet there are huge differences in outcomes by university prestige. That must be down do selection effects. So why not free-ride on their selection filter? If you can *get into* the fancy college, you apparently got the magic. So don't actually *go* - just come work for me instead! Either this doesn't happen because the market really is stuck in some inefficient local valley. Or, maybe, markets are as efficient as we think, and college really does add real value to students.

Your view only works if a University is 100% signalling. It is clearly not. Students *do* learn lots of things in engineering programs. Some of them are technical, like learning to program. Others are "soft" skills like being able to sit down and work on a problem they don't immediately know how to solve. An engineering education builds an important technical foundation that is very hard to replicate in other ways.

I'll give you an example. I am highly involved in doing academic research with both graduate and undergraduate students. I have some very smart undergraduate students; some of them are more academically talented than my graduate students. However, they are not nearly as useful when they are e.g. sophomores, because they can't program, they don't understand statistical mechanics, etc. However, they do learn quickly, and can contribute in a number of ways in the lab. Over time, they get better! And they are getting better precisely because they are taking courses that are setting a foundation for them to build upon when doing the specific tasks in our research.

Now, of course many of their future employers don't need them to do academic-style research. But, they do demand their technical foundation. In my experience talking to recruiters, they are very much shopping for a "brand" just like you and I shop for boxed cereal at the grocery store. They want a quality engineer with such-and-such background when they show up. They have other employees that don't have that foundation (technicians) that do gain a lot of valuable, practical on-the-job experience.

David H is very good on this subject.

"Why not declare "I will give you a $50,000 job if you defer your MIT acceptance by a year, and if we find it's working out, that offer will increase for the next year. And you might learn more as you're being paid by me than you would by paying MIT." It's basically off-loading the internal talent scouting to an outside organization - MIT admissions - who do all the legwork. Why hire an MIT graduate with a sheepskin, when you can get the same individual five years earlier, when they're even hungrier, more intellectually flexible, and far cheaper?"

I think this is exactly what Theranos investors thought. She went to Stanford and if you get into Standford you are most likely going to graduate. So poach her before the employer-market has a chance to nab a bright mind.

BUT-- all of this discussion is not including the fact of personal choice. I was highly considering electrical engineering, yet I chose to get a BFA in electronic media-- a terrible choice from an ROI perspective. But the best choice for my education. I graduated 4.0 so I maximized the space I could perform, yet the market responds with no care.

Having a BFA and understanding art gives me a huge advantage in this moment (For AI reasons-- and that most sectors have no idea what art is doing), but that advantage is only internal to those who can see it. And from the market perspective is non existent.

Ie education, is only worth what the market thinks it is worth. Having an education in something not rewarded by the market, undervalues that candidates actual ability.

Ie-- This discussion is focused around Math and engineering student being better suited for the market. IMO that is only because there tasks are testable.

And this goes back to the original point.

There is a big difference between actual education, and novel argumentation. And being able to test well.

Education is not testing. Both are incredibly important.

But mathematically are extremely different.

Not all tasks have linear solutions. And therefore testing becomes difficult. The reason IMO why the arts have such little value on their education is that they are nearly impossible to test, do to the nature of the test is not looking for a solution to an optimization problem. But looking for the possible combinations in base sets. And choosing which of those combinations are the most appealing to experience.

This is a very good point, and is borne out by experience.

My organization hires a lot of summer interns, and uses them for some pretty sophisticated projects. And the amount you can expect to get out of a junior/senior vs a freshman is quite substantial. So *something* is going on in those three or four years.

In addition to commitment, I think there's a socialization effect. People are choosing their peer group when they go to college, which will determine the amount of effort, attention to detail, etc, that they will find reasonable to devote to a project.

If you really want to duplicate the Harvard experience, I would recommend finding a couple of hundred hypercompetitive overachievers to sit in on your tutor sessions and silently judge you if you slack off for a couple of weeks.

Yup. Do these skeptics about college education actually work with any college students?

Caplan presumably does, but Caplan is a kook.

Quoting from David H's post above, "It follows from Caplan's model" -- that's your problem right there, Caplan is wrong.

These were exactly my thoughts too. Also, the author assumes that most of the educational effort is in lecturing on the material, but setting and *grading* homework (sometimes even fixing the syllabus and the reference book) are all costly. At a university, you can pay graduate assistant TAs a pittance to get them to grade, in return for waiving off their tuition fees, which might save some costs too.

Yet another point is benchmark. A university class forces a lot of the competitive but not top-notch students to calibrate their studies against the top performers in the class, but if you don't see top performers around you, you might succumb to the temptation to cut yourself some slack, and the private tutor may willingly oblige if it isn't going to harm her reputation.

How much of the elevated cost of education is due to the fact that firm's can't hire in the basis of standardized test scores?

Probably zero. The elevated cost is due to the administrator class and their budgets. Administrators self-replicate to make their jobs easier and they continue to spend on garish, extraneous displays of signaling/marketing.

Is an indoor climbing wall or a lacrosse field necessary for education? Absolutely not but it accomplishes two goals:
1. it speaks to certain clientele they want to attract
2. it gives them an excuse to raise tuition and fees.

Probably most important reason why costs go up is because they can. The path to the upper middle class and above flows through the university. A captive audience is forced to pay the cost of ransom. Even Felicity Huffman understands this.

How long have you been reading MR? Alex Tabarrok has already written about the "bloat" theory of education costs:
However, his theory would not explain any difference between tuition vs tutors.

The increase in tuition is multi-causal. I think these are some of the most important (in no particular order):

* Decreased funding by state governments
* Increased regulatory burden on Universities
* Arms-race in research funding
* Disconnect between those who pay (parents and donors) and those who use the services (students)
* "Capture" by long-term employees (administrators and faculty).

Of course the increase in administration is a proximate cause to the increased tuition. But why the increase in administration? This is not primarily a desire to self-replicate. Of course, once entrenched it is very hard to reduce the size/scope of administrative positions. Their is a ratcheting effect here that is similar to govt growth.

Very good insights.

Zemsky and Massey in several books and articles in the 1990s made a similar observation, although they called the administrative growth a "lattice" -- and called the centrifugal forces that cause faculty to focus more on their disciplines and research rather than on their own institutions or departments an academic "ratchet".

They called this "the lattice and the ratchet" but I can never remember which is which, and if one were to guess, one would usually choose the same terminology that you did: the increase of administration is the ratchet. So they attempted to create colorful metaphors but created confusing terms instead.

Can't they though? Like, it's actually illegal? Because I had a job where the employer refused to hire anyone who did not get at 95+ percentile on the GRE. (OK, it was a GRE tutoring job. But did this employer obtain a legal exemption that allowed her to consider my standardized test score?)

This is a rather too simplistic example and argument. I'm no economist, but I do vaguely recall hearing something about supply and demand and economies of scale. The author of that piece apparently doesn't.

First, it's naive to suggest this as a model and think that the rate of those currently "adjunct professors" would be the same in this new world. If you cut class size down from, say, 30 to 1, wouldn't the demand for those professors increase exponentially and, accordingly, the hourly rate?

Also, those adjuncts would quickly realize that there are some advantages to employee status. As a tutor, they likely would bear the employer share of Medicare and FICA. No 401(k) match and other fringe benefits. The cost of commuting for student and professor (or both?) would increase. Increased record keeping burdens, etc., etc. And, what would be the prospect for promotion?

And, students would quickly realise they miss the socialisation benefits of interacting with other students. It's rather presumptious of teachers to thank that students learn *only* from them rather than their peers.

There is a reason (in fact, many reasons) other than credentialling that this is not the prevalent model today.

"tenure hopeful adjunct"

What are their chances of getting tenure at Home University? Zero. Therefore their reservation wage will increase. (Although the prospect still works out even at twice the price.)

Furthermore, how are these out-of-class adjuncts keeping their skills fresh? They'll either spend countless unpaid hours studying books and papers themselves, or they'll have to spend money taking lessons from a real professor. This problem (which doesn't exist at real colleges) would again push up reservation wages.

But right now, you could make a bid on some pretty smart adjuncts who are receiving some very small salaries. So why don't you? Or why doesn't the clued-in professor tiger mom do this, while it's cheap?

That's like saying: I won't buy that amazing car for that great price, because everybody will want one, and the price will go up to where I won't be able to afford it. Huh? But the car is there in the lot, with the low, affordable price in the windshield! What kind of argument is that?

I suggest you read the entire piece again. That this would be for just a few was not the proposal put forward, so it was not the proposal I was responding to. Sure, the few who try this first might get by a bit cheaper (but, I doubt it for the other reasons stated). For this to be a reasonable solution for any but a few would change the market for "adjuncts" incredibly.

The problem with this, and with a lot of other suggestions put forward as policy solutions, is that they think the other variables won't change and thus they use a static model. Rather than it being "like saying I can't buy that amazing car..." it is "like saying 2 million people will die from Covid 19 because behavior won't change!" Very shortsighted, indeed.

"Huh? But the car is there in the lot, with the low, affordable price in the windshield! What kind of argument is that?"

That's a flawed example. In this case you aren't buying the "car" for yourself, you are buying for someone else (your employer). And you know the other party likes cars from the Big Brand retailiers, you don't know if he'll actually repay you for the cost of the car if you brought it from side of the highway José Affordable Cars. Furthermore, the car can only ever be sold to an Employer, no one else will pay for it and the lot won't take it back.

>economies of scale.

Wouldn't that cut the other way (i.e., it should help colleges be cheaper, not more expensive)?

If all else were equal, yes. But, not everything else is anywhere near equal. What colleges are serving up is much, much more than just providing classroom instruction (and, I agree that those extras are often not necessary).

Don't get me wrong--I think administration is pocketing a lot of savings from those economies of scale rather than providing the savings to students.

Another quibble with the article and the numbers---I think we should be working from the *average* cost of tuition and not the headline cost. Due to cross-subsidisation, a few pay the headline cost, but most don't.
Depending on your persuasion, that may be a feature of the tutor model, but don't kid yourself. If this model were to become the "norm", it wouldn't be very long before the less fortunate are demanding a financial break because the market demands they pay the same price as someone's rich kid.

Only a professor with an inflated sense of self worth could possibly buy into this nonsense. Kids go to college for the networking with peers and teachers and the extracurriculars. 15 years after graduation most people retain very little of what they “learned” in college but do maintain important relationships with people from that time in their lives. Obviously the status signaling is important as well. Private tutoring has always been an option and used to dominate - does Tyler not get why elites abandoned that model several centuries ago?

"Private tutoring has always been an option and used to dominate - does Tyler not get why elites abandoned that model several centuries ago?"

It could be due for a comeback. I agree it's not easy and it requires a shift in what education is understood to be for. But some sort of shift may be due. Elites used it for a classical education, but there are some fields in which it could work, and in which knowledge matters more than networking.

I'm partial to the idea because I've worked as a tutor for a while (not usually at the college level, mainly standardized exams). I do think 1-1 instruction is quite beneficial for some students, and would like to see that model come back in some form. It definitely isn't an interchangeable experience with college, but I think there should be more options available.

There really is no field where knowledge matters more than networking. The fields where knowledge matters more are dead-end ones leading to low-status careers.

Kids go to college primarily because of barriers to entry put up by employers and professional schools.

To get a decent job, you usually need a bachelor's degree. To go to professional schools, you need a bachelor's degree and letters of recommendation from professors. There's no reason a bachelor's degree should be necessary as a prerequisite for law or med school. In many countries law and med degrees are bachelor's degrees, not some separate professional degree.

If people could apply to and obtain high status jobs and professional schools directly without needing bachelor's degrees and letters of recommendation from academics, a lot fewer kids would attend college.

Not the reason I went in the 60s in my late teens, nor the reason I returned in my late 50s in the 00s.

I in the 60s I had no other way to access physics and engineering equipment and computers, and in the 00s, I had no other way to access hundred thousand dollar CNC machines, fifty thousand in welding and cutting equipment, and hundreds of thousands in plastics extruding equipment.

I wanted to be part of something like Elon Musk set out to do in 2000. In 2000, Elon had both $100 million plus people he'd help make rich. He could not merely hire tutors, he could buy tens of millions in equipment based on their recommendations.

Engineering schools tap into large numbers of alumni and in a few cases get tens, hundreds of millions to buy equipment plus build buildings to house it.

Computers have reduced the need for similar grants for language and literature which in my youth required big building holding hundreds of thousands of books and papers.

But computers haven't eliminated the need for land grant schools to have seed collects, orchards, forests, animals, and land, of diversity to teach students the basics of what is critical for human life.

Economists have in the past 3-4 decades decided the real physical world is unneeded because its external to theory of invisible hands of invisible workers producing invisible goods and services for invisible consumers using invisible capital.

I don't know what school you went to, but engineering education is still mainly pencil and paper based, and was especially so back in the 60s. The whole point of academic professional engineering was to train future pro engineers in advanced math techniques and problem solving, not to have them play around with expensive industrial equipment. If you wanted to work with equipment or do engineering right away, you went into industry after high school and worked as a technician, engineering apprentice, draftsman, etc. Any advanced math you would either never deal with, or pick up along the way, or study independently, or at night school, etc.

Agreed, I graduated in 1999 with an engineering degrees. It was 90% book work and most of the advanced EE labs were either on computer (and I did almost all of it on a computer I built myself) or bread boarding. Even for circuit designs you could buy the kits your self, though I did use the blowers at the school for the acid etching. But some guys just did it outside with a mask.

I don't agree with Tyler's claim either, but I have to push back here. People really do learn things, and retain them 15 years later. It might not always be easily measurable on a multiple choice exam administered by a social scientist, but they do learn things. I mean, if you are this cynical about university you throw out all technical training in science, engineering, medicine, etc.

Now, of course people go to school for other reasons: networking, socializing, signalling, etc. And of course, not all degrees are created equal. But come on...

Technical training is achieved by independently reading textbooks, doing math based problem sets, and then on the job. There's nothing magical about sitting in a lecture hall with dozens of other kids who are half asleep, daydreaming, or fiddling on their laptops.

I partially agree/partially disagree. Certainly learning takes independent individual effort. But there is something a little bit magical about studying around others. For one, there are economies of scale for things like TA hours and groups of students who study together. This makes it more efficient to learn (as all of my students learned when we went remote last month). Second, there are peer-pressure effects and culture. How do you get people to work hard on something dense and technical? One important way is to have everyone else doing it, too! Also, if you show up in my class, and you were the best student in your high school, but now you are average or below, you just learned that you need to work harder to compete in the world. That can motivate you to work hard too.

I am a crypto trader and at $60 per hour I would like to hire a good macroeconomy advisor. Is there a market for that?

I don't know about econ, but I know a lot of engineering profs who consult with industry for rates near $100-$200/hr. You could surely get a recent PhD grad (or current student) for considerably less. I would guess the econ PhD market would be roughly similar.

There is no such thing as a good macroeconomy advisor. (At least when you define good as someone that can predict where the macroeconomy is heading the majority of the time.)

I do this kind of speculation and the supporting permitting as a water resources engineer for water right related work in prior appropriation states. The market rate supports $160/hour for someone with 5 years experience. $240/hour for 10+ years experience. $300+/hour once you dabble in the expert witness world.

How would this work for STEM education, say engineering - which I am against as of course the rich who know that their children need real education don't go in for engineering educations as they are dead-end - but still this blog likes to do its part in the propaganda and go on about the importance of it.
Normally people with PhDs in Engineering or such have good outside options, why would they go tutor for like $40 an hour?

Especially when they had to provide their own $10 million science and engineering facility.

A PhD student in engineering wouldn't. They are already getting paid $30K a year to do a PhD (tuition expenses are also usually covered), and could quit at any time, get an MS and get a job paying upwards of $70K. If they finish their degree they will likely get paid upwards of $100K. They have better prospects for pay (and better hours) if they go to industry than academia.

I know of some PhD students who take side gigs tutoring undergrads. It is usually a stupid move, because they prolong their time to graduation. Because of the high pay-out after the degree, it is better to be poorer now and graduate faster to get the higher pay later.

Buying used textbooks or downloading them free online, and then going through them, reading them, doing the exercises and problems, is even cheaper.

Look up Cambridge undergrad math education in the 19th and early 20th century. It was focused on mathematical physics and problem solving and devoted to preparing math students for the famous math Tripos exam. It was arguably the most serious and rigorous math or any undergrad subject training in the world at the time.

The students attended formal lectures at Cambridge, but they were inadequate and useless for preparing them for the Tripos. The students had private tutors or coaches who would teach groups of students with intensive drilling. There were famous coaches known for producing "Wranglers" as top scorers are called. The math education and training revolved around this private tutoring, even though they were at Cambridge.

No. Cambridge was NOT considered the best training in mathematics in the world at that time. Especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Actually for the reasons that you describe British mathematics was considered quite poor - the focus on mathematical physics - I forget who but someone once described British mathematics of the period to being "still in thrall to Newton" - as in it hadn't moved on from the 18th century. At that time Germany and France were much more dominate in modern mathematics - topics like abstract algebra, topology, analysis.

Okay "quite poor" may have been hyperbole on my part but Britain was largely not the powerhouse of mathematics in the late 19th/ early 20th centuries.

It was more nuanced than that. The Cambridge Tripos was looked on as being rather old-fashioned in content but unmatched in standard of difficulty.

Hell's bells, the great Maxwell was only Second Wrangler.

The Tripos produced some of the greatest mathematical physicists since Newton, like Maxwell and Lord Kelvin.

The Continent was more focused on algebraic math but this didn't have to do with some sort of special training program.

That's the point: Newton, Kelvin, Maxwell all from the 18th or early-to-mid 19th Century. How many big names in mathematics is Britain producing around the turn of the 20th century?
If you look at the genealogy of American mathematics, a lot of the people who became big names in the mid-20th century did their doctorates in Germany.

This is digressing into a whole separate topic, but I'll note that the increasing predominance of formal math very disconnected from physics in the 20th century was not uncontroversial and some regard it as being negative.

My understanding is that the really outstanding British mathematicians of the day (Hardy, etc) considered the Tripos to be antiquated and a distraction from the things they really ought to have been studying, but felt obliged to take it because scoring well was a straightforward route to getting a job.

A modern day analogy might be the Putnam test, which is extremely difficult but has a distinctive style of problem that can be solved in a few hours (albeit with difficulty).

I remember Martin Garden had a column about the Wranglers 30 years ago, and he said the way they studied mathematics ruined a generation of British mathematicians since they weren't at all creative.

I always thought I was bad at maths in school. Later I found my aptitude was better than most, it was just I was bad at boredom.

The Tripos produced giants like Maxwell, Kelvin, Galton and others who were very creative.

There is a bias against any sort of intensive study and focus on problem solving as being inherently uncreative. This attitude is especially common among dullards who aren't very bright and convince themselves that they're "creative" as a cope.

The post trade Tripos curriculum and training that emphasizes formalism has been quite sterile compared to the traditional approach that maintained the connection between math and physics, applied math, and 0roblem solving, which was extremely fruitful and where all our science comes from.

This might work for a liberal arts/economics program. You would need to find a way to make it work for STEM students who need labs.

Also, if these tutors are going to give out grades I would predict massive grade inflation like never seen before. $40 an hour? Make it $50 an hour and guarantee an A.


I got duolingo, I got duolingo
I'd like a million people all 'round the world
I want biofeedback for my accent
So I can learn pronunciation as well

You've got me learning up and learning down, I'm turning in, I'm turning 'round
I'm learning Japanese, I think I'm learning Japanese, I really think so

The tutor model in education is in many ways analogous to the Amazon model in retail. I've never quite understood how taking the product to the customer rather than taking the customer to the product is more efficient. As for on-line education, the customer is still coming to the product; indeed, many more customers are potentially coming to the product as compared to a roomful of students on a campus. Why is retail so different? Or is it?

If one considers the evolution of Amazon one can appreciate that the Amazon model is not more efficient but depends on (1) conditioning (Amazon conditioned customers to prefer its model by setting prices below retail and by absorbing shipping costs even if it meant selling product at a loss), (2) an enormous negative externality not borne by Amazon (the costs of pollution and congestion from taking the product to the customer), and (3) size (Amazon became so large so fast that Amazon can dictate prices charged by suppliers and because of its rapid growth Amazon attracted billions in equity capital to absorb all those operating losses).

Of course, what I have pointed out in my comments is that the efficiency of the Amazon model, like the efficiency of the tech business model generally, is an illusion. If Amazon had to bear the cost of its negative externality, Amazon wouldn't survive a month. The same is true for ride hailing businesses: from 2010 to 2016 traffic congestion in San Francisco increased by 60% and Uber and Lyft are responsible for more than half of the increase. This blog post by Cowen reveals the inefficiency of taking the product (the tutor) to the customer (the student) but I would appreciate greater scrutiny of the illusion of efficiency of the tech business model.

How do I find ~36 different adjunct professors willing to teach me every single class that I would have taken in college? How many cities have that many different professors willing to take on a single tutoring gig?

Dan G.

You raise at a personal level what is a more general problem, really a general equilibrium problem here. It may well be that one person by themselves can pull this off, although you note it may be harder than Tyler makes it look. But suppose we were to make this the general system: all students go hire individual tutors. Ooops! There will now be this massive increase in demands for tutors that will push the price of their services up, possibly way up. The financial calculations here simply are meaningless for that case.

The idea of widely used tutors as a replacement for what we have is an impractical joke.

I think that colleges provide a great deal of value by packaging a lot of different services into a package that is almost impossible for the individual to replicate: teaching, screening, signaling, evaluation, networking, and recreation in an all-inclusive deal. The cost is my concern. The cost in 1970 (or, probably, 1940) was high enough to provide all this stuff at 1/4 the real price of today's colleges, so we need to figure out where the money went. I suspect that lavish facilities are not the real reason. They're not that lavish, and I can build a climbing wall for a very low cost if I an spread the cost over 40,000 potential users. I would look at non-teaching staff, responsibilities to the community (including hospital services billed but never paid), and whatever else didn't exist in 1970 or whatever your reference year is.

This one was a little far out. I worked as a tutor to wealthy families while in college (Econ of course) in the oughts. I charged $100/hour to teach little tikes phonics And multiplication tables but they had to have the material too. College is a bargain for most families. $40 an hour hahaha.

Just like with designer clothing, you don't pay for the function. You don't pay for the materials. You pay for the right to show off a brand.

Language nsfw, but Mulaney's standup on the economic model of college is brilliant, hilarious, honest:

Can't post at hyperlink?

It's impressive how much of the commentariat, when shown a simple calculation that displays how ridiculously out of touch college costs are, rush to defend those costs. It's very... cultish.

And yet, wealthy Europeans and Asians - who have access to perfectly good, sometimes superior, education for a much lower price (in their own native languages no less) will still often opt to spend money to send their children to American universities. That suggests consumers are finding value in the experience outside the "learning stuff" component that economists and professors keep focusing on.

Right, they're finding value in the arbitrary credentialing. That's why I paid for it, so I could get licensed in a field that requires a master's degree only to use math I learned in middle school in my actual job. (Those woke-approved electives really come in handy, though.)

Let's ask our intrepid blogger if he thinks that is an acceptable analogue to the efficiency barriers imposed by the regulatory state. Er, maybe he's a little biased.

Of course the foreign students get an expedited visa as well, I am not sure you can find that sort of value in a tutor. Maybe if you marry them to get a green card?

Who's rushing to defend the cost of college? I think most are saying that private tutoring is not as good or as cheap of a substitute as it might appear on the surface.

Again, the point is not to endorse hiring an army of private tutors to supplant colleges, it's to illustrate how divorced the cost of attending college is from the basics of its intended mission. Say, by the way, do you think you would make a good monk?

Teaching students is only one of the intended missions of a university. For example, I went to the Univ. of Minnesota, which has a threefold mission: teaching, research and public outreach. This is pretty standard for a public university. It is hard to calculate the cost that a student should expect to pay to attend a research university.

As for being good monk? Ha! I've never been asked such a question. I don't know much about monks, but a wild guess suggests the would need to be:
* Religiously devoted
* Studious & interested in science
* Isolated and celibate

Mark me down as good to go on the first two, and a big no for the third. Also, my wife would want me to point out that I talk way too much if there is a silence requirement.

Why limit it to one on one tutoring. Do a zoom tutoring session with two or three students. They learn from you and each other.

One thing Scholars Stage misses is that the outlandish tuition prices are just sticker prices and nobody (or very few) actually pay that much. Higher Ed (especially at elite places) is a massive price discrimination game. What’s the cost of attending Harvard if your family makes less than $60,000? Free.

So the out of pocket costs paid by the students are not as much as he is saying. (Although they are still much, much higher than BYU.)

Actually if you are smart/demographically entitled enough to both get into Harvard and have low income parents, you will actually make money by going there. The Ivy League schools, and probably other universities with large endowments, are able to guarantee cushy on-campus jobs to lower income students and provide a cornucopia of fellowships and study grants to all students ambitious enough to take advantage of them. It really does seem to be all about building an elite.

As a couple of others have pointed out, this only works in certain wordy or abstract fields- and even those must rely only on relatively recent and thus digitized resources. Some of the (clearly overpriced) tuition is paying for physical resources: libraries, studios, labs. Can you get a degree in music having only played your own instrument? Can a computer engineer do what needs to be done on his consumer-level home computer?

"Can a computer engineer do what needs to be done on his consumer-level home computer?"
Yeah they basically can - however how many Computer Engineering PhDs are going to go to work tutoring for $40 an hour? That's the question. This only POSSIBLY works for fields where the practitioners don't have any other options but teaching.
And of course the networking with other students is a big, important part of university. The actual course content is completely secondary and QUICKLY forgotten even in the STEM fields that people around here fetishize.

If I purchase four years' worth of tutors for my kid, is there a diploma presented at the end? No.

And while online tutoring/teaching may be cheaper and more advantageous for the student, why should a university change their model to make less money?

If this coronavirus thing goes on long enough, maybe some universities barely surviving on the margins will have the incentive to explore this approach as a way to capture more income. But I would not be surprised if over time it gets phased back out in favor of in-person classes that maximize income.

Absolutely In person lectures at a real university will always carry far more cachet than some online crap and the cachet is what gets people the interviews and offers for top jobs, and people are always going to go for that as much as they can.
Tutors can't grant degrees and the piece of paper is virtually all that counts.

>s there a diploma presented at the end? No.

Similarly, the private tutors won't be "an accredited institution," so your kids won't be eligible for student aid, your kids will not be eligible to obtain a variety of credentials (e.g., in most states, they can't even take the bar exam), etc.

Our institutions weave a powerful web of corruption nowadays.

>why should a university change their model to make less money?

Because they are tax-exempt non-profits?

Unless you threaten to take away nonprofit status, universities will continue to maximize income.

I tend to agree.

Individuals' worst instincts are usually tempered by a desire to be lovely...there doesn't appear to be any similar force tempering institutional behavior.

I might even take it a step further... the division of responsibility inherent to institutions seems to permit/sanction individuals to behave worse than they otherwise would.

The obstacle that would likely render these tutoring programs fatally uncompetitive is that they would not be eligible for federal student aid.

For good reason: scam potential. Whereas if you purchase it yourself you have no incentive to participate in a scam.

This question is like asking "why don't people prefer takeout from Michelin-starred restaurants, where they can save money on wine and service?" The answer, of course, is that a fine restaurant isn't just about the food; it offers an experience beyond eating. Similarly, college offers an experience beyond learning.

And to understand that, don't ask "why do people go to college rather than hiring tutors?" Instead, ask "why don't more smart kids graduate high school and/or college in three years?"

The top 5%--basically a 1400 SAT or above--can easily do college in three years, after all:

a) Take APs, as many as possible (almost all of the top 5% can manage at least 2, most will take at least 4, some take as many as 10)

b) Take 20 credits/year in college (less your AP credits and any summer courses)

c) Graduate in three years.

Obviously this is a HUGE money savings: You save tuition costs, plus interest, plus opportunity costs of your job, and you get into your career a year earlier (which means you start on that growth path sooner.)

Yet very few students take that route.

And IMO, the main reason is because they want something MORE than education: They also want the experience of being surrounded by a cohort of other students with shared interests and goals and ideas and such. You can't get that from a tutor.

It's almost as if education is supposed to be something more than mere ability to regurgitate facts or reason through essay questions

Now, get rid of the tutors.

I think computer programming, my job, is much better taught through tutors than school.

Course that can be CLEPed perhaps students should hire a tutor, say over the summer and CLEP them. If you get enough of that you could maybe know a year of cost off college. That might get the University to cut spending and lower prices.

If hundreds of thousands of college students each wanted to hire a tutor, wouldn't the hourly wage increase dramatically? Even if they paired up or formed groups of four as Tyler suggests, there would be a dramatic increase in the demand and hence cost of tutors. So the savings would likely not be as great as suggested.

Students also learn from one another, at least in the best learning environments. Tutoring cannot offer that.

Tutors probably don't have significant research programs, so in some fields at leasts, students would not be learning from those on the cutting edge. For undergraduates the jury is probably still out on the importance of learning from someone actually researching the topic, but for graduate students this is very important.

biggest miss here is that adjuncts are not paid $40/hr. they are paid $40/hr with prospect of tenure track and other career opportunities that I'm pretty sure "private tutor" won't afford them.

If 10 million college students in the US tried to hire tutors how much would tutors start charging per hour? I'm guessing a lot more than $60

Set that aside, you have to add in the additional cost of finding the right tutor for each class you want to take, and find a place convenient to meet with them (presumably you don't have all these tutors living in your neighborhood) which would include travel costs for you and the tutors.

And obviously on top of it all there's the stamp of approval by a recognized institution that you can't get from tutors.

The problem though is that you're not really buying the education. You're buying the degree.

And private tutors can't give you a piece of paper that an employer would want.

So even though you might be better educated than an equivalent college grad - no one will know. So its 80grand down the toilet vs 100k for a piece of paper that gets you a foot in the door.

In theory, that's where internships should come into play.

But, as you might guess, our institutions have set things up such that interns/employers need an accredited college to act as a middleman (the accepted term for this service might trigger moderation)

My school can only engage in so much grade inflation, else our brand will suffer. It would embarrass the other graduates if we let a very bad student emerge with a good GPA. If I were a private tutor (good, let's say, but not famous) how could I possibly control the grade inflation problem? No one would pay me to give them a D. There would be no shortage of private tutors willing to exchange A's for money. Without tenure, tutors would have very little interest in maintaining the reputation of a school that serves as a clearinghouse.

What you're paying for is supposed to be the vetting process.

I wouldn't know where to look for a tutor in the US and, even if I did, I'd have no way of evaluating their skill at actually teaching or their true comprehension of their subject.

In college, I relied on the vicious cattiness of other university professors to push out the people who weren't competitive or convincing enough in showing off their knowledge and skills.

I say this because, I'm coming from a professional background of teaching Western languages and history to middle-to-upper-middle class children in East Asia, i.e., I am a tutor myself. And I know that I am one hundred percent doing a disservice to these kids. I am nowhere near qualified to teach much of anything except American TV culture of the '90s to them. But a big smile on a white face is more than enough for me to keep getting glowing reference after glowing reference from parents, so I keep getting work, year after year.

Half the stuff I reach these kids is garbled grammar I half remember from elementary school, or "historical events" I've read in novels, if I'm not just making it up, whole cloth.

Most parents don't ask for any qualifications because they wouldn't know what to ask for. The few who do ask, see a picture of a mediocre college degree in English in my phone and are generally satisfied. Sadly, I don't believe that most American parents would be that much better equipped to judge a tutor's depth of comprehension.

You might say, "Well, you're just a glorified babysitter," which is true, but I charge 3-4 times more per session than what a normal kindergarten here averages per class, and 5-6 times more than what just regular childcare would go for, so the parents must expect that they're getting some value added out of tutoring, although, other than the white skin, I can't, for the life of me, figure out what.

I would never want this system of education to spread in the US.

If colleges no longer served as gatekeepers to career tracks and the professional schools, the demand for tutors in academic subjects would collapse.

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