Tuesday

educationCollege Excesses

I read this article over at U.S. News & World Report: Bigger Tuition Bills and Student Loans Coming in 2011. It’s the same old crap: Tuition rates are increasing faster than the non-rich can afford. The article has the same air of inevitability and helplessness. Sample: “But many colleges say they can’t keep up with skyrocketing demand for aid.”

Here’s an idea: cut your costs.

I decided to do some “internet journalism” and see how many instances of college excess I could find. I’ve seen stories of excess repeatedly in the past ten years or so (e.g., the public university that put in a marble dining hall), but I never bothered to collect them. Unfortunately, they were hard to find, but they’re out there. In thirty minutes of surfing, here’s what I found:

First: The best article of all: U.S. Colleges Get Swanky: Golf Courses, Climbing Walls, Saunas. It has a lot of great examples of college excess:

The BU gym is among hundreds of luxurious new amenities rising on U.S. college campuses — and few of these projects are directly related to education.

The University of Houston built a 256,000-square-foot recreation and wellness center with a 62-foot-high atrium and outdoor pool studded with palm trees. Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, has its own 18-hole golf course and a heated, $17.5 million ice hockey rink that holds 2,600.

Ohio State University in Columbus completed a 600,000-square- foot recreation center with three pools, a 25-person hot tub and two saunas in June. There’s a video game arcade next to the ESPN SportsCenter desk at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, where students can perform and e-mail their own news broadcasts.

Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, opened a $50 million theater and dance performance center in April. . . .

These projects include mixed-use commercial developments, high-end residential facilities, research parks and lavish student recreation buildings and performing arts centers.”

Colleges are developing a country club mentality that has little to do with acquiring knowledge and learning to think, says Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

“There should be a more Spartan aspect to education that is more conducive to learning,” says Botstein, 58, whose college will cost students an estimated $41,800 in the school year beginning this fall. “You are looking at a culture driven by Hollywood and vulgarity, people who are more interested in hot tubs than in what goes on in the classroom. Are we spending on education or a cruise for entertainment?”

But after that story, the samples are harder to find, but they’re out there. Some of what I found:

“Colleges have engaged in an amenities war, attempting to attract only the best students by building wave pools, rock climbing walls, whirlpools, and movie theaters on campus,” says David Harpool, J.D., Ph.D, provost and chief administrative officer of Ellis College of NYIT, an online degree college in New York. Indeed, some colleges are home to fast food chains and fitness centers, yoga classes, bundled cable TV and Internet service in dorms — and dorms that look more like luxury town homes than drab dwellings. Harpool also cites swelling athletic budgets and presidential perks as culprits. That’s all cut out of the picture with online campuses. Link.

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Then there is the burgeoning demand for luxury campus amenities, like the spanking new Academic Village at CSU, or the food courts, climbing walls, and exercise facilities our students seem to require. Some campuses even offer discounted massages and free Napster accounts. These amenities are, of course, ancillary to the quality of the education our universities provide. Link.

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Another portion of the academic pie getting an increase during the period was “student services” — a dubious category including not only institutional financial aid but everything from “safe sex” kits to college-run counseling services. Link.

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Waste is rampant in other states as well. Northern Illinois University recently opened a new engineering school, at an estimated cost of $65 million to $85 million over the first 10 years, even though there were 1,700 empty places in three other engineering programs within a 65-mile radius. In the “student services” area, California Polytechnic State Institute offers a program to help freshmen overcome shyness, while Pennsylvania State University gives out Roommate Starter Kits to ease the dreaded campus trauma. Even Harvard University, which offers some of the most prestigious graduate programs in the world, managed to spend $100,000 building a guardhouse that a Boston hotel later duplicated for $5,000. Link.

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The luxury suites, situated on the 25th floor, include stunning views of Boston, furnished common areas, private baths, soundproof piano rooms, a 24-hour reading room with “plush adjustable furniture befitting a first-class airport lounge” and a plasma TV-equipped media lounge. These extras are only available to 14 students and cost close $13,000 a year, $5,000 more than a standard dorm! According to Boston University president Robert Brown, the school is just giving students what they want in an attempt to keep upperclassmen from living off campus. Link.

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Where is all the money going [at the University of Kansas, which serves as a Chronicle of Higher Education case study about increase tuition costs]? To various things aimed broadly at enhancing student experience and so improving retention: new facilities (two science buildings, a fitness center replete with climbing wall, renovated dorms, a multicultural resource center, a performing arts center, a writing center, revamped high-tech classrooms, increased library services, IT), more professors, and more bureaucracy to administer all the new student services, to publicize them, and to study them. Link.

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The fast-growing group of millionaire private college and university presidents hit a new record in recent years, and it’s likely more college leaders will make seven-figure salaries once the slumping economy rebounds. Link.

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Rock-climbing walls, luxury dorms, gourmet food in the dining halls, and first-class fitness centers are all potential signs that colleges and universities have lost touch with reality. Link.

The above samples are frustrating, but it’s even more frustrating that the media repeatedly points to “the need to attract students” as a source of the excess costs. Example. I saw that explanation tossed around repeatedly while searching for the above links. That explanation is ridiculous. It’s more of a symptom of the problem than the source. No business spends money it doesn’t have to attract customers . . . unless it’s taking an enormous risk or it’s run by incompetents. These universities aren’t taking a risk. They know the money is there and always will be as long as they do what Big Business and Big Government want.

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3 Responses to Tuesday

  1. Trubador says:

    I graduated from Villanova University in 1985. Undergrad annual tuition at that time was approx. $5000/yr (just tuition, not room & board). My student loan covered half of it ($10k). Today, the tuition is over $39000/yr.

    That’s OBSCENE!!!!!

  2. Rico Suave says:

    That’s doubling about every eight years. Equal to about an 8% return on your money, COMPOUNDED annually. CPI doesn’t compound, and it hasn’t been running anywhere near 8% (more like 2-3%). That is obscene.

  3. Trubador says:

    More than that. From $5k/yr to $39k/yr in just 25 years… that’s doubling every THREE years.