The University of Austin hopes to upend the existing higher-education model.

Richard Vedder:

Intelligent observers of American higher education know that colleges generally are in great trouble: falling enrollments, declining public and political support, often dubious outcomes, and excessive tuition and other costs. Most depressing, the traditional tolerance of widespread viewpoints and commitment to free expression seem to have declined substantially.

While one finds a few encouraging stories dealing with these issues at existing colleges and universities, the overall picture is bleak. It seems that current institutions are doing too little, if anything, to fix the problem. At many, the outlook is palpably worsening.

In the competitive, free-market, private-business sector, lags in innovation or qualitative improvement are remedied by Schumpeterian “creative destruction” and by new competition. Hence Eastman Kodak has nearly died in photography and Tesla has prospered in automobiles as a consequence of changes in technology and taste.

It seems that current institutions are doing little, if anything, to fix higher education’s problems.

So, too, can new entrants into the collegiate market potentially help to reverse the declining higher-education industry in America. I recently attended a summit of higher-education thinkers and philanthropists sponsored by the new University of Austin (UATX). UATX will admit its first class in the fall of 2024, but it is already doing a number of academic activities—for example, running short summer seminars for crackerjack students at other schools—as a trial run for a future as a full-fledged university.

It is not an ordinary group of academics who are leading UATX’s inception. The founding president, Pano Kanelos, was the former president of the “great books” college St. John’s (Annapolis and Santa Fe). Prestigious academics like Charles Calomiris (Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions at Columbia University) are taking pay cuts to join, full-time, the management and instructional team at UATX.