NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Colleges Drift Away from Their Academic Priorities

September 29, 2014

To compete for more students, colleges are turning away from academic offerings and are beginning to entice potential students with luxurious amenities.

  • As of 2012, 92 schools have embarked on 157 recreational capital projects.
  • Texas Tech, for example, is building an $8.4 million complex that includes a water slide and tanning deck.
  • Together, these cost a total of $1.7 billion.

In a time when state funding for higher education is being slashed, tuition rates are going up, and student debt surpasses $1 trillion, is it wise for universities to divert scarce resources, often at the expense of students and taxpayers, to build luxury amenities?

Some say yes. According to a 2013 analysis of National Bureau of Economic Research, only a small number of potential students care about academic quality over amenities. Ivy League schools, for example, can compete based on academics. But for the rest, trying to entice students comes down to what amenities are offered.

  • High end dorms, new gyms, and high-tech student centers are just some of the ways that schools aim to attract students. And perhaps this makes sense because in a time when funding is low, schools have to compete to get the most number of enrollees.
  • But what kind of toll does this have on society. In one study, students improved hardly in critical thinking or complex reasoning skills. And none of those students in the study had any real incentive to work harder because they still achieved B-plus averages.

The reality that the institutions aren't preparing their students hits them when students enter the job market. In a new follow-up study, when graduates hit the job market, only 47 percent of the participants had full-time jobs paying more than $30,000.

Source: Charles Lane, "Colleges Drift Away From Their Academic Priorities," Washington Post, September 24, 2014. 


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