As nationwide student loan debt skyrockets, prospective students may be looking more closely at where their tuition dollars are going. Colleges, however, are apparently in no rush to rein in their spending. Judging from the surge in new campus housing construction, plenty of colleges seem to think it’s still boom time, as the AP reports:
Fifty-two new residence halls at private and public schools to house 19,000 students opened last year or will open this year around the U.S., with a price tag of more than $2 billion, according to Paul Abramson, an analyst with New York-based Intelligence in Education who tracks college construction. Overall, the number of new residence hall construction is up from 40 that Abramson counted a year ago for his annual May survey […]Each state finances construction differently, but students who live in the new facilities ultimately pick up the tab by paying higher housing rates. Many states, like Kansas, use bonds to finance the projects — making them less dependent on lawmakers passing funding bills.
Many of these dormitories are, of course, luxurious and equipped with extravagant amenities. Mid-level colleges are often the most inclined to build such dorms. Because they lack the prestige that attaches to more elite colleges, they think fancy facilities are the best way to attract students to their schools. This is the absolute wrong way to compete for students, however, not only because it piles debt on taxpayers and students, but also because it sends the message that college is more about fun and comfort than about learning. Slashing tuition would be a far better move for mid-tier colleges looking to punch above their weight.But even more troubling than the misplaced priority is that states are funding these dorms with bonds. Kicking the can down the road by using enormous amounts of debt to build expensive college dorms is almost the essence of the blue model approach to higher education. Less debt and luxury and more efficiency and innovation must be the future of higher ed if it hopes to weather the pressures buffeting it.