Education or Vacation?

By SARIKA AKULA, senior (Originally published March 2022)  

ROOFTOP GARDENS. Putting greens. Valet  parking. No, this isn’t your next vacation— it’s the academic future waiting for you at  colleges like the University of Kentucky,  the University of North Florida, and High  Point University, respectively. In recent  years, colleges have been competing in a  veritable “amenities arms race,” designed  to appeal to prospective students. Perhaps  most infamously, in 2017, Louisiana State  University (LSU) opened a 536-foot-long  lazy river in the shape of the letters “LSU”  as part of an $85 million renovation. This  project was partially financed by student  fees. To compare, the university’s Middleton  Library is fitted with peeled wallpaper,  stained carpets, and crumbling tile, according  to LSU’s Manship Journalism Chair Robert  Mann. This example is just one of many on  college campuses recently. While all these  amenities sound great, they come at the  expense of students’ education and money.  At a time when higher education costs are  increasing, colleges should not be spending  millions of dollars on luxurious projects. 

For context, there is sometimes good  rationale behind these investments. Most  schools want to enhance the college  experience by making their campuses more  residential. Such campuses would make  students more comfortable and want to  spend time there, allowing them to connect  with others, get to classes easily, and stay  safe. Many older colleges continuously need  building maintenance, and it makes sense to  build new structures rather than upgrading  old ones. Colleges might also use luxury as  a way to attract prospective students. Brian  Jacob, a researcher from the University of  Michigan, noted that these amenities may  attract students from wealthy backgrounds  

that lack high academic achievement since  they can contribute to the college financially.  For less-selective schools, investing in these  indulgences rather than academics can  make attending the school more appealing.  From a university perspective, one can see  why the addition of certain facilities would make for a smart financial decision, especially if they also enhance students’ learning. It is fair for students to expect certain standards for their dorm rooms like  air conditioning, a comfortable bed, or  their own bathroom. However, there is a  difference between updating old residential  halls and maintaining quads, and installing  50-inch flat-screen TVs and shower speakers.  The provisions that colleges choose to  fund should improve the student’s learning  experience and help them adjust to living on  their own. 

The price of attending college has  skyrocketed in America: according to the  College Board, tuition and fees at public  4-year institutions grew more than 60% over  

the last 10 years. With student loan interests  and loss of income included, the overall  cost of a bachelor’s degree can be more  than $400,000. The media has reported that  campus amenities are one of the reasons,  but there could be more. While in some  cases, like LSU,  students saw  fee increases  because of these projects, in other colleges, tuition was  constant. College costs are growing for many reasons, such as less funding from states, and more people going to  college. However, while these amenities  are not the only reason for college costs  increasing, they are still culpable, especially  if colleges overestimate their predicted  outcomes and end up overbuilding. 

While these amenities do make the college  experience better, prospective college  students might say they would prefer college  to be affordable rather than glamorous.  These amenities are meant to be enjoyed  by students, but if they are coming at the  expense of financial burdens, they should not be constructed. At the end of the day,  college is for specialized education, building  on what you know, and preparing you for  your next journey in life. More time should  be spent on ensuring that students receive  a quality education as opposed to a quality  vacation. 

In some cases, college luxuries can have  the exact opposite effect on enhancing the  college experience. At college, students are  encouraged to engage with people from  different backgrounds. Evidently, these  opulent settings only stand to serve those  who can pay for them. As tuition rates  increase in America, colleges with luxurious  amenities risk becoming playgrounds  for children of the elite. Within college  campuses, these different standards of  living can create socioeconomic divides.  Students who can afford to live in expensive  dorms are not likely to come across students  living in basic residence halls. This physical  separation between low-income and wealthy  students prevents students from meeting  people of all backgrounds.  

Even students are starting to protest  against these projects. For example, at  the University of Texas at San Antonio,  students voted against a fee increase that  would have been used to strengthen athletic  facilities. Additionally, including students  and faculty in the decision-making process  when planning for new amenities will help  in understanding what students truly need.  Student task forces can also be set up to  target improving campus infrastructure and  facilities. In this way, colleges can directly  address their students’ needs. 

When they decide to attend college, most  students are looking for three things: an  education, a community, and a degree. It’s  time that university investments reflect these  ideals. 

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