Monday, August 2, 2010

Flight of Fancy: What If...? A Market for Bid Points

One common theme I've heard is that MBA's are often upset when they don't get all the elective courses that they want. While I certainly can't complain, it brings up an interesting question: "What if someone like me was able to sell their bid points? What would I get for them? And how would you value them?"

For example, my course choices weren’t very restrictive, I got 500 points to bid on four courses, most of which I could have gotten with a zero bid. Whereas, Mr(s). Ambitious was trying to take TMP and Value Investing while going on Exchange (physically impossible, Value Investing is a year long course and Exchange means you are physically gone). If there existed a mechanism (and therefore a market) for me to transfer my points for a price, what would I get for them? What should they be worth? Clearly, there is currently some "market inefficiency" as we are both unsatisfied: Mr(s). Ambitious because they didn't get all the courses they wanted [net deficiency] and me because I didn't realize the full value of my bid points because I had more than I could use - [net surplus].

Well let’s make some assumptions:

  • Rotman tuition is C$35k per year (let’s not include first year as it’s common, or you can adjust the value of points accordingly if you feel second year courses are more / less important)
  • You take 10 elective courses in your second year
  • You are given 1000 points with which to bid

A “book value” of the points would simply be C$35k / 1000 points or about $35 per point.

But keep in mind that when something is inherently useful, especially in a scenario where a few points margin can mean the difference between getting the course you really want versus having to settle for a less popular course, there can potentially be bidding wars from “oversubscription” (points trade at a multiple above their book value) especially if they were in limited supply.

While people are paying C$70+k to go to school, for a marginal $35 x 100 points (a rough approximation of the average points allocated per student / course) or $3500 you can get any course you want (including the highly coveted TMP and Value Investing – which includes a trip to visit Warren Buffet – one of the reasons why this course is so wildly popular).

If you could some how do it, you could see how much additional probability you have of getting into the classes you wanted and put a dollar value on how badly you wanted to be in that class (regression analysis), you can determine a price you’d be willing to pay to attend that class. For example: Would there be a correlation between the number of points you consumed to get into classes of your choice against your overall earning power once out of university (thinking along the lines of DCF to value bid points like common shares).

And also imagine if this market had a “market maker”. For example, the PSO will (create and) sell you points for a certain value (either regulated and pre-determined or floating with the market). Students could liquidate their points at market value and get money back or buy points of the market to be more competitive for course selection and the school could potentially get revenue from selling points.

And since you have a market with underlying assets, imagine if you created financial instruments for those assets (shorts, puts, and calls for bid points, futures).

And imagine if other schools had market systems (I’m told that bidding systems are not uncommon at other MBA schools), you could trade between these. Or even other programs!

Of course, these points would inherently have an “expiry” as to their value (you wouldn’t want to be holding (take delivery of) 5000 MIT Engineering points if you were going to Stanford Law School).

There are some interesting implications. For instance, a new ranking system for schools where the relative value of a course is determined by the market value (determined by students taking courses there) in real time with comparisons to year over year values. Example: Would an engineering calculus class go for more at Waterloo or Toronto? Could you couple this with flexibility between schools (accreditation programs) which allow students to take equivalent courses at other schools and what do you get?

It would be a more sophisticated and real-time version of tuition regulated by the market. Taken to the extreme, here is another idea: drop the original tuition completely and have students buy bid points for classes. And then what if you were able to connect this market to actual financial markets? An S&P Index of Undergraduate studies to benchmark the valuation of your individual class’ performance.

Another thought: If the value of courses in a particular faculty started to "overheat" would that be a leading indicator of oversupply of labour in a particular industry in 4 years time?

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