And possibly a cheaper one, too.
Currently, the way attending college works is this: you pay tuition and fees to the school, and the school disburses the money to programs, departments, etc. The school also determines what constitutes a degree track, and so dictates what courses the students must take to graduate with a given degree. Professors are generally paid by tenure and have supplementary sources of income including research, consulting, authorship, etc.
This creates an incentive problem, because right now there’s an agency problem–students get educated from professors and departmental programs, but they pay the university. There’s usually room for mischief in a scheme like that, where Peter pays Paul to receive service from John. In this case, students pay for a “degree” and “experience” and “fun“, and there’s a disconnect between the tuition paid and the value of the actual classes.
How about trying this model: Basically, the school rents space and facilities to professors, and professors charge students for their classes. Professors could teach as many classes as they wanted, and charge whatever they wanted per student. This would force universities to rationalize their cost structure, and determine what they really need to provide based on the value the professors can extract through the use of their facilities.
The school could still require that students take a given series of classes. Professors would be incentivized to provide quality courses and to teach more, period. There would be a market signal to increase or decrease given classes for given degrees as well as a rough market proxy for the degrees themselves, as tuition would vary according to the demand for the degree (i.e., more popular professors would probably charge more for their courses, encouraging other professorial market entrants, and encouraging students to seek degrees with higher returns on investment.
If a student has to choose a class based on price, he’s probably more likely to put more effort into it, which results in a higher classroom experience with more involved students.
This would end the tenure track that is artificially keeping some professors teaching and keeping some professors from leaving teaching. It would institute a meritocratic market system for education provisioning.
I don’t doubt that this would change the relationship between marquee professors and the universities, but I don’t know enough of the dynamic right now to make any judgments on that.
Universities could also pay rates to subsidize research if need be (I’m not too familiar with how research is currently funded other than a general awareness of grants, etc.).
This would represent a complete realignment of priorities and could have profound consequences for the value of a college education and the associated tuition.