The news is filled with stories and data of rising tuition on college campuses. I have written about this very fact a number of times here on the blog. The talking heads on every major news channel mention it at least once per day and each person you listen to may spout out a number of various reasons why college tuition is continually on the rise.
“Experts” are so divided on this issue because there is not a clear cut answer. There literally could be a million internal factors that influence the cost of a colleges’ tuition, as well as the external factors of our national and global economy.
In researching this phenomena and from working on a college campus, I have a hypothesis of why college tuition has risen so dramatically in the past decade: Lifestyle Inflation and Greedy College Students!
I believe that “lifestyle inflation” or the 21st century version of “keeping up with the Joneses” is to blame for driving college tuition prices to unprecedented heights. College students are simply no longer satisfied with musty dorm rooms, and uncomfortable classroom chairs. College students expect to have multiple Starbucks locations on their campus. They want manicured grass and climate controlled buildings. They want spotless restrooms, and state of the art laboratory facilities.
Today’s college students expect to have sports stadiums which rival (or far surpass) professional teams. They want to have a gym facility with an indoor climbing wall, olympic size swimming pool, Zumba classes, and enough ellipticals to entertain an entire sorority.
College students also expect to have a car on campus, they expect to have access to social activities at every hour of the day, they expect their professors to bend over backwards to accomodate them within their office hours, and they expect to have private showers.
None of these conveniences and amenities are cheap.
To attract new students, colleges are forced to cater to these demands. The sad thing is that you will likely never get a student to admit that they crave the above luxuries. Even though they may not voice this opinion, their voice is heard loud and clear through their actions. They choose to go to colleges and universities which offer these amenities. The better the amenities, the higher the enrollment.
A Vicious Cycle
Many colleges are driven by their enrollment. Their budget is directly determined by the number of students they admit each year, and they do not receive funding from the state or other external entities. Colleges who live and die by the number paying students they have on campus each semester must do whatever is takes to attract their quota of students. Attracting new students means building bigger and nicer facilities, and providng all of the amenities mentioned above.
When college students (and parents!) walk onto campus for their college tour, they expect to find these things. Unfortunately, many students base their college decision on the level of the amenities offered by the college and not on their academic prowess.
Here is the vicious cycle: Colleges must provide these high priced amenities to attract new students, these amenities and facilities cost a great deal of money, thus driving up tuition costs, parents and students complain about high tuition costs and demand that colleges find ways to lower their costs.
The standard of living on a college campus has expanded to a level that colleges simply cannot keep pace with. Their attempts to keep pace have resulted in the skyrocketing of tuition rates.
As college tuition prices are driven higher by the insatiable desire of students for high priced amenities, student loan debt also continues to skyrocket. This is the predicament that we find ourselves in today.
Let’s take a step towards halting the rise of both college tuition and student loan debt, by eating more ramien noodles and accepting a moldy dorm room as your right of passage!
It is indeed a vicious cycle. 10 years from now I believe we will find our higher education system severely revamped.
@Marvin – I agree with you. The changes need to happen much sooner than that, but change is very difficult in Higher Ed. And unfortunately, changing a mindset is muh more difficult than changing a policy or procedure.
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