Sky-high tuition rates may be driving millions of students into debt, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping colleges from pouring money into fancy amenities. A new piece in The New Republic discusses how colleges are increasingly turning to posh construction companies to build state-of-the-art dorms with granite countertops, pools, and personal bathrooms that have more in common with luxury hotels than traditional dorms. Apparently there’s a method to this madness:
The scramble to upgrade college dorms began as a response to changing demographics. Despite everything you hear about the record numbers of applicants for elite schools, in many parts of the country the pool of college-bound high school students is flat or shrinking. If you subtract those students who can’t afford a residential school, the market becomes even tighter. The result is a growing competition for students, especially for the top-scoring, high-achieving kind. Schools figure that if they can offer commodious, well-appointed living quarters, they’ll have a better chance of winning over top prospects….College officials estimate that 60 percent of their applicants have never shared a bedroom. So when they commission new student housing, the goal is bigger units, more private bedrooms and a lot more social space. Very few new dorms are being built with common showers, even though it’s the more economical way to go. In the typical dorm suite, one bathroom for every two students is now the standard ratio.
This is problematic enough on its own, but it’s more troubling that this trend is picking up steam at community colleges, which had long existed as a low-cost alternative to four-year residential schools, catering to locals and commuter students. Yet as the WSJ reports, many community colleges, concerned by their relatively low graduation rates, have been upgrading dorms and other campus amenities to lure students and keep them enrolled:
Thomas Coley, Ivy Tech chancellor for the state’s north central and northwest region, said his school is in “catch-up mode” to offer services like other community colleges.Critics of Mr. Coley’s master plan, which included a new performing-arts center, question if these expenditures are the best use of funds in an era of cash-strapped budgets. But Mr. Coley maintains that these purchases will pay off in the long run.“There is much greater emphasis on student engagement and student retention,” he said, who also added funds for a student-life director and more events on campus. “It’s all part of our development of student life.”
It’s good that colleges are trying to compete for students, but this is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. If colleges really want to convince more students to attend, the best thing to do would be to lower tuition to the point where most of them can graduate without significant debt. Attracting students with various forms of campus luxury only helps to send them into penury after graduation.[College quad image courtesy of Shutterstock]