Now that I have taught two sessions of my course using zoom, I quite naturally consider myself an expert on distance education, so I would like to put my newfound mastery of this subject to use by imagining a way in which we could apply it to the solution of two problems that currently bedevil American higher education: the high cost to students and the miserable pay and working conditions of the hordes of adjuncts who have been substituted for tenure track faculty by cost cutting university administrations.
There is one major problem with the following proposal: it cannot provide students with laboratory science classes. I do not now have a solution for that problem.
Consider an on-line undergraduate college offering the full range of Humanities, Social Science, and non-laboratory science courses. Its faculty consists of retired professors like myself [although not so old, of course] and young men and women with doctorates who have not been able to secure tenure track positions at regular colleges and universities. The educational credentials and academic accomplishments of its faculty will obtain it accreditation from the appropriate bodies.
This college offers only small distance courses via zoom, by means of which students and faculty can meet regularly and interact as though [more or less] in a classroom. Each course is limited to 20 students, meets for 14 weeks, and carries 3 academic credits. A full course load for a student is 5 courses a semester or 10 courses a year, as in most ordinary colleges.
The college has no dorms, no classroom buildings, no fraternities or sororities, no sports teams, no dining halls, no health clinic, no admissions office, no Provost, no Associate Provost, no Deans, no Assistant Deans, and one President, elected by the entire faculty. Each Department is run collectively by all of the people teaching courses in that discipline. Young faculty work on five year appointments. Retired faculty like me teach on one year renewable contracts, in recognition of the fact that they may keel over at any moment or simply lose their marbles.
The college has no endowment and no fixed costs. Its income is the fees paid by the students and its only cost [save for a little IT] is the salary and benefits of the faculty. So, what would it cost, and what would the faculty earn?
Google tells me that “the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2019–2020 school year was $41,426 at private colleges, $11,260 for state residents at public colleges and $27,120 for out-of-state students at state schools, according to data reported to U.S. News in an annual survey.” Let us take the $11,260 as our point of comparison. I am arbitrarily going to set tuition at our on-line college at $900 a course or $9000 for a full year of five courses per semester or ten courses per year. That is 80% of the average in-state tuition, a considerable saving.
With 20 students in a course, each course generates $18,000 in income for the college. How much shall we pay the faculty? Well, I am being paid $10,000 this semester by UNC Chapel Hill. Last semester I was paid $15,000 by Columbia, thanks to a special arrangement involving money from the Society of Senior Scholars, of which I am a member, but of course out of that I had to pay the costs of traveling from North Carolina to New York City thirteen times [an expense that is not tax deductible, by the way.] Let us suppose we pay each professor, whether a retiree like me or a young itinerant adjunct, $13,000. That is gravy for the likes of me and $78,000 a year for the young adjuncts with a 3-3 teaching load, which is not what they could make as college or university professors but much better than the miserable pay they are getting now.
What about fringe benefits? The retirees don’t need them. They have pensions and Medicare. The extra $5000 a course over and above the Instructor’s salary could easily pay for health insurance and TIAA-CREF pensions for the former adjuncts, with the relatively small administrative costs paid for out of the extra $5000 per retiree-taught course.
There is, of course, a major drawback: no Senior Prom.