Multiple Institutions, One Goal

We don’t comment much on higher education issues around here–K-12 education is important enough–but an article about higher education in Sedgwick County caught our eye. Butler Community College is setting up a facility on the north side of Wichita, the better to attract more Hispanic students.

By opening an office at Evergreen, Butler Community College is in direct competition with Wichita State University for students.

[snip]

The limited amount of students to recruit and the direct competition from Butler doesn’t worry WSU recruiter Alicia Nowell, who concentrates on the Wichita school district.

[snip]

[Butler’s Anna] Villarreal said that the competition really comes down to giving all students a piece of the real world on campus.

One ailment afflicting education in general is the idea that competition among educational institutions for students is somehow a bad idea or even contrary to the goals of education.
Granted, competition can be difficult, if you’re the one providing the good or service. Not everyone relishes being pushed to change and keep one step ahead of somebody else. But competition is a way of life, and the key to economic success.

Why should education be any different? In fact, it’s not, at least to a limited extent. Ask any real estate agent in a metropolitan area, and you’ll find that house buyers are often quite concerned about competition: which one of these districts is the best? Even some school districts–Topeka is perhaps the most recent example we have seen–are aware of the logic of competition. The Topeka district is touting itself to real estate agents. In higher education, KU and KSU compete for students, not only against each other, but against Emporia State, Fort Hays State, private colleges, and even institutions across the country.

One thing that K-12 could benefit from is an increased use of competition among schools, facilitated by vouchers, tuition tax credits, a vigorous open enrollment atmosphere, a liberalized charter school law, and the like.

After all, if the goal if education, rather than the maintenance of facilities and organizations, competition is key.

(Butler pursues Hispanic students in Wichita, Wichita Eagle, June 11, 2007)

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