I'll defer today to a smart post over at our Teaching Thursday blog. Michael Beltz of the Philosophy and Religion Department at UND considers the fundamental organization of the university ecology (or economy) and wonders whether our present model of using introductory level classes to support, in effect, upper level teaching and research is fair to students on both a pedagogical and an economic level. Beltz notes that not only does the university put the fewest resources into these lower level courses as an institution but also students in the lower level classes stand to benefit the least from the resources that these classes provide for upper level courses (in that they benefit no more than any other citizen of the world by the research and expertise of the scholars who take and teaching upper level courses at the university). He argues that the fundamental iniquity of the model employed by most universities has led to the emergence of companies like Straighterline which offer lower divisions courses for much cheaper because they are able to eliminate much of the university overhead.
While this post is certainly food for thought, I'd point out that most students do benefit from some upper level courses whether or not they are in the field in which they take an introductory level course or not. That is to say, you might take a lower level course in biology and may not directly benefit from an upper level biology class, but you would benefit from an upper level course in, say, political science or history (and these courses are sustained, at least in theory, by faculty research). So the ecosystem, so to speak, is somewhat more complex than Beltz's model. But his point still stands. There is a disconnect between the economics and philosophy of teaching at many universities.