Bricks, Mortar, and Education
By Arnold Kling
Eventually you could have local campuses becoming places where MITx students seek tutoring, network, and socialize – reclaiming some of the college experience they’d otherwise have lost.
Phil thought this sounded like college as a giant coffee shop. I agree. Every education would be ad hoc. It would be student-directed toward the job market she’s aiming for.
Gordon argues that book stores and retail stores in general should take of up less space and hold less inventory. Along the same lines, Marc Andreessen says,
It’s going to get harder and harder to justify the retail store model. The model has this fundamental problem where every store has to have its own inventory and every store is also a warehouse. The economic deadweight of that entire inventory in each store–that’s what took down Borders.
But I want to stick to colleges and universities. Over the last twenty years, every campus that I have visited has been in a construction frenzy. I would love to see data comparing square footage of physical plant per student at the top fifty universities in 1990 with today–my guess is that it has gone up by more than 30 percent. And yet we have known that the Internet was going to reduce the relative value of buildings. It is hard to think of a more striking phenomenon of supposedly smart people (in charge of universities) doing an obviously stupid thing (putting up buildings).
If college were truly a utilitarian good, all it would take to turn these edifice-complex campuses into ghost towns is a good hack for the accreditation process. But at the high levels, college is a status good. Let me repeat that going to a top college today is like belonging to the right church in 1850 or the right country club in 1950. When you are supplying a status good, ostentatiously wasting money on buildings can increase demand.