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Cleaning Up Higher-Ed

Creating a system of quid pro quo opportunities through which students can receive a free education.

Photo of James Bazakos
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

One of the largest barriers to entry prospective college students face is the ever-inflating cost of tuition and housing. By involving community stakeholders such as students, local government, nonprofit organizations and the educational institutions themselves, a more comprehensive system of subsidizing, or potentially eliminating the cost of tuition and housing can emerge. This is done by mandating that students actively maintain their campus and work to solve the college towns/city's issues.

    A large cost factor for educational institutions is staffing them. Schools have maintenance costs (cleaning, basic repairs etc.) and service costs (food service, security, help desks, etc.) that require a low level of know-how, and low time commitments. Instead of staffing employees and hiring third-party contractors to serve these basic needs, students can be mandatorily tasked with caring for their own campus. 

    In Japan, students clean their own classrooms and school grounds, as well as serve one another food, as highlighted by the image and video above. These activities reportedly ingrain appreciation, pride, and a sense of responsibility in students that prepare them for, and stay with them through, the working professional world. 

    A software system could be developed that replaces schools' current class registrars, with a class registration system including both class options and task options that students can choose from for their following semester. The system would, through what I would imagine to be a complex set of algorithms (or functions of that nature), assure that both maintenance and service tasks will be equitably assigned (and rotated) amongst the student body so as to eliminate those costs. Cost savings on these fronts will also be achieved in other ways than just eliminating (at least in large-part) current salaries or contracts. Incoming students each year will learn about the operational needs and functions of their school, and offer fresh perspective on what can be done to be more efficient- a feedback loop that can be difficult to develop when the same people remain in the same position for years at a time. The cost savings for schools can be applied towards subsidizing all students education. 

    It's likely though that this alone will not be sufficient to eliminate tuition and housing costs. Take NYU for example. Tuition and housing are roughly $70,000 per student/per year. Multiply that by the number of undergraduate students (roughly 25,000), and we get roughly $1,750,000,000 (1.75B USD) in earned income to NYU. Let's account for financial aid and chop off $750,000,000. The likelihood of keeping NYU clean and serving students food costing $1,000,000,000/yr are slim to none (but not even slim at all). 

    What if the cities and towns these colleges are located in provided the housing for students? At NYU this would knock roughly $30,000/yr off of that $70,000/yr cost. But what incentive would the city have to do so? Well- what if students had the option to stay at their college for one year after receiving their undergraduate degree, conducting research on the city's issues? These issues could range from solving issues of homelessness, criminal recidivism, drug addiction, equal educational opportunity, etc. 

    Any reduction in a schools level of financial aid funds needed can be repurposed to serve as operational grants to pay for salaries of administrators and educators, which can further reduce the cost of tuition. 

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Discuss the idea of using students to eliminate costs, which in return can reduce their tuitions, with administrators at NYU.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Using existing research done by the OpenIDEO community on this challenge to come up with a comprehensive ecosystem of cost savings and incentive structures that align with all stakeholders to make college free. The idea I've proposed is merely a rough thought experiment as to how incentives can align at different levels throughout the community, and how students can be developed in more ways than just knowledge, while also helping make college free for themselves.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kaye Han

James, I think that this is a simple yet very effective idea. Although it may not radically solve the problem, it certainly is a solution that will add to the whole. Really great perspective. Love it! 

I think that the benefits of this idea isn't limited to the financial area as you've already pointed out. Caring for and maintaining the property adds cultural and identity value to the students which may inadvertently improve grades, community, and university culture. I see this as just the beginning of a movement of students being proactive where it can flood into other areas; maybe into entertainment on campus, etc. 

Photo of James Bazakos

Thank you, Rob! I too believe the effects of this idea, or however it could take shape, can have a deeper reach than just financially. I believe one of the issues here in this Higher-Ed challenge is that the college paradigm is structured as a business, whether nonprofit or for-profit entities. This is something I feel intuitively, but have no evidence to back the psychological effects that college-as-a-business-structure have on student's collective psyche. I think engendering a more community feel around college, one that involves stakeholders from the business, governmental and social sectors, could shift the way we see college education as a part of the community at large. 

Photo of Kaye Han

That's a great point, James. I personally feel that there's a shift in mentality (at least in the West) where businesses (particularly social enterprises) operate under better paradigms; they actually care about what they're doing and the people they serve. This may be due to the millennial generation's values seeping into the business structure. So on that note, I'm not sure it's a big problem for education institutions to be 'businesses', as long as they're operating with integrity. As in, for-profit can be with integrity and not just about money money money. At least that's my dream! Haha. 

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