I came across this story from Fox News and it reminded me of one of the often overlooked contributors to rising tuition costs – when colleges try to attract students by spending money on luxuries. I am an LSU alumni and I have to say I had a great time there. There was always something to do and since New Orleans was only an hour way, if you were bored on the weekend you just hopped in the car for a night on the town. I lived in a cheap apartment on the edge of campus with great roommates and got a great education. What I didn’t get and didn’t need was a luxury swimming pool with a lazy river that spelled out LSU. So why is LSU building one for $85 MILLION DOLLARS? Because student feedback indicated that students wanted more recreation options.
But is that what college is really about? Should students be taking out record breaking amounts of student loans to pay for luxury pools, big screen TVs in the dorm rooms, and fancy fitness facilities? NO. If you are taking out loans, you should be doing so in order to pay for an education from the best faculty that money can buy.
There is a misconception that faculty are the cause for the rise in tuition, but at most universities that is not the case. According to a survey by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the average Assistant Professor in the visual and performing arts has a salary of $56,692. At full professor rank, the average pay is $85,634. For professionals with doctorate degrees, that is hardly an excessive salary.
So where is the money going? Well in 2013, American universities spend $10.9 billion on construction projects. So it would seem a lot of it is going to providing luxuries for students. Researchers who wrote a paper titled “Country Club as College” found that lower achieving students desired more luxury amenities than higher achieving students. The problem is the higher achieving students are usually on large academic scholarships while the lower achieving students are not and have to pay more out of pocket, often in the form of loans.
So what can be done about this? Well at places like LSU where the construction is already underway – nothing. But if students and parents want to see an end to skyrocketing tuition, they need to stop asking for luxuries that are unrelated to education. If you are on a school tour, don’t complain that the dorms look like dorms and not four star hotel rooms. If you are in the dining hall, do not put comments in the survey box requesting lobster or steak on the weekends. Otherwise, university administrators are going to continue to give students what they want and when they do, tuition will continue to rise.