Imagine if a single law could simultaneously force colleges to drastically lower their costs and decimate the diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE) bureaucracy. Happily, this is possible, and the solution can be summarized in a single word: unbundling. Almost overnight, the cost of college would fall precipitously, students would mature as they learned to manage their own lives, and thousands of diversity administrators would be unemployed. It’s a magic bullet if there ever was one.
“Unbundling” is a business term that refers to how firms integrate or outsource operations. For example, Ford Motor Company initially manufactured almost everything in house with its own iron mines, steel plants, and even forests and sawmills. This total vertical integration proved profitable, but as competition increased, it became inefficient to run an array of varied businesses. It was better to concentrate on cars, and Ford eventually decided to buy its steel from more cost-effective steelmakers, its lumber from lumber companies, and so on.
Bundling involves both the economics of pricing and legal regulations. At the consumer level, this often appears as a “package deal.” Consider how Microsoft almost forces computer buyers to purchase its software package that includes multiple programs, not all of which are desired by each buyer when bundled with the hardware. According to Microsoft’s rivals, pre-installation unfairly excludes them from the marketplace. HP, Dell, and other hardware makers should be required by law to offer buyers a wider choice than just Microsoft. Such disputes over bundling are nearly everywhere in today’s complex, interconnected marketplace.
Higher education exemplifies this bundling problem. Schools provide professors with classrooms and auxiliary facilities necessary to impart knowledge—language labs, libraries, computers, and the administrative infrastructure necessary to keep it all going. But today’s academy also provides products and services beyond its core mission. These include housing, food, healthcare, entertainment, bookstores, policing, and more.
None of these products and services are essential to the university’s core mission, particularly in a capitalist economy where all them can be purchased independently. Moreover, thanks to the Internet, services once necessary to assist schools in their core mission can now be obtained via the web with no reliance on the school itself. Examples include remedial tutoring, research assistance, and computer support, among countless other services. Google Scholar might even replace the library, while many top schools now offer free online lectures. Indeed, why even enroll if most of what you need can be found on YouTube for free? The use of virtual classrooms during the pandemic suggests that the reliance on brick-and-mortar, high-priced infrastructure may continue to decline.
What if federal law required all schools receiving government money to offer their services à la carte? Being enrolled now only requires paying for courses and nothing more. In an instant, deprived of the seemingly endless list of fees and mandatory charges, schools would lose a significant portion of their income. Critically, this loss would impose severe constraints on such optional expenses as the DIE bureaucracy and similar social engineering ventures. Now, if students want to organize to save the planet, they can do it on their own nickel. Faced with a much-shrunken budget, top administrators would have to choose between their high salaries and non-essential extras. It’s a no-brainer.
The importance of defunding the university’s ancillary amenities to eliminate DIE cannot be exaggerated. Imagine campus life if schools did not fund all the left-leaning student groups, public talks by geriatric radicals, and “safe spaces” set aside for racial and sexual grievance groups. No more taxpayer support for campus radicalism. Further, consider how the university’s housing bureaucracy often imposes wokeism on its captive clients through rules regarding what can be displayed (e.g., the American flag) or through its authority to ban “hateful behavior.” What if the university insisted that, as per prudent business practices, all student groups pay to rent their meeting rooms, along with insurance, cleaning, and any needed security? If a LGBT+ group rejects this option, tell them to contact the local Holiday Inn. In an instant, the political temperature on campus would drastically cool.
It’s hard to predict the net savings that unbundling will generate, but they will be substantial, as many students would only sign up for the bare-bones, classes-only option. Many students may prefer slum-style housing and Ramen noodles over the lavish, expensive lifestyle schools now offer. Of the utmost importance, unbundling is guaranteed to eliminate the need for heavy student debt, a benefit that should be wildly popular.
This new pricing structure will also energize our entrepreneurial spirit. Now under-utilized dorms and cafeterias may be auctioned off to local businesses, even students themselves, while computer science majors will compete in the local IT market. Privately run convenient care facilities will replace the student healthcare bureaucracy. Students will form dining co-ops and organize concerts. There will also be a free speech dividend—since entertainment and public lectures are beyond the school’s administrative reach, there will be no need to worry about woke administrators banning “controversial” performers. Provocative comedy will return to campus.
Unbundling will also reverse today’s infantilized youngsters. Students must now make the choices once handled by the school (or parents) and suffer the consequences. In other words, they must pay for what they want. No more running to the “free” campus clinic when you’re panicked over the planet’s impending doom. In short, welcome to the adult world.
Cutting costs will also encourage educational innovation, and, perhaps, a return to the era when a few students could gather under a grove of trees. Recall that modern universities originally offered students instruction and nothing more. Gone will be school tours to bedazzle prospective enrollees with expensive gyms, gourmet meals, and luxury dorms. A bare-bones operation is particularly valuable for campuses plagued by violent crime. Just pack up and move to a more peaceful setting.
If such an unbundling bill becomes a possibility, savvy schools may begin to unload their expensive peripheral functions. As in the real estate market, it is better to sell before panic sets in. At some point all the buildings housing armies of administrators, all the student recreational facilities, the many dorms and dining halls, the faculty clubs, and even the libraries and language labs will become white elephants who invite bankruptcy. Today’s picturesque, ivy-covered campuses might become tomorrow’s rust belt—sprawling facilities that went broke as consumers found cheaper products elsewhere. It would be creative destruction on a grand scale.
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