Are Buy One Get One Free Degrees on the Horizon?

With just three days to the kickoff of U of C’s MAPH program orientation barbecue and only eight days till my $16k tuition payment is due, this article caught my attention.  It seems that National Louis University, a private non-profit university in Chicago, has made  its masters-level “Introduction to Teaching” course available on Groupon–a website that offers discounts on local goods and services.  Groupon prices the course for $950 or about sixty percent off from the regular cost of $2,232.  Obviously, National Louis University can discount the course so aggressively because it only counts for 3 of the 36 hours needed to graduate–which, of course, will charge the customary $2,232 per three-hour course.  This means that the Groupon offer only nets a paltry 4.7% discount from the complete degree’s cost of $26,784–and that without counting whatever student activity fees, transcript fees, and other hidden costs exist above and beyond tuition.  However, there is something refreshing about the idea that an institution of higher education–especially a one-hundred year old university that birthed the Kindergarten movement–recognizing that students are not blessed with infinite resources and an education’s cost is a factor.

“But wait!” You say, only a few days ago in this post you seemed to suggest that cost was less of a factor than educational value–under your own “maphmatics” it would seem that a top flight school like U of C should be able to charge as much as it wants for the MAPH program?

While it is true that U of C can charge as much as it would like for a program like the MAPH, capitalism says that if another institution of equal capabilities and standing–say, University of Michigan or New York University–wished to offer a similar program for half the cost, then students would crowd into Anne Arbor or Manhattan instead of Hyde Park.  My frustration is with those whose reductionistic perspectives see all bachelors degrees or all masters degrees as being of  equal value and cost being the only factor.  However capitalism cuts both ways.  Part of the reason that U of C can charge what it does is that–as a highly selective school–far more people apply than get in.  High school level economics says that a constant demand with an decreased supply leads to an increased cost–so high tuition costs are possible only when positions available are scarce.  The spot in the MAPH program would seem to be actually far less selective than one of the funded PhD positions, but still far more selective than many other Masters programs.

While National Louis’s Groupon testifies to a certain commodification of education and their discount of less than five percent on a graduate degree is underwhelming, it does point toward a day when higher education can’t continue to assume yearly tuition increases at double the inflation rate simply as a matter of course.  The Groupon coupon amounts to a marketing tactic–like giving away a plastic toy in order to incentivize the purchase of Cap’n Crunch–but perhaps it represents a bellwether change in higher education pricing.  I’m just waiting for triple coupon Autumn semesters in Hyde Park.

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