Originally, a “campus” was a distant field where promising young Roman boys were sent to train for the Roman legions, to learn Roman virtues, and upon commencement, to fight for the glory of Rome and return in victory and, perhaps, to enter politics. The conditions on campus were Spartan, to say the least. But, by leaving behind the touchstones associated with the distractions of the city and home, the ascetic program endured by those young Roman boys had the effect of forming vir romanitas (a true Roman man).
This idea of campus continued when many of the nation’s universities, especially state universities, were founded. “State College” wasn’t New York City, Philadelphia, or Chicago. No, the “college town” was located far from those touchstones associated with city and home life. The goal of forming the nation’s youth demanded introducing them into a new culture that eschewed much of the world, namely, the culture of the intellect.
Today, however, that’s the stuff of hazy memory. According to the Washington Post:
- In 2012, 92 institutions embarked upon 157 recreational capital projects at a cost of $1.7B. For example, Texas Tech built an $8.4M complex that includes a water slide and tanning deck.
- High end dorms, new gyms, and high-tech student centers and food courts are sprouting up like mushrooms in fertile loam.
Many of these enhancements to campuses nationwide are directly related to competition, that is, administrators are having problems attracting students for academic programs. Those administrators believe these amenities will attract $$$-paying students. So, campuses across the United States are increasingly resembling Disneyland. That despite a 2013 National Bureau of Economic Research study which revealed that only a small percentage of potential students care more about the amenities than academics.
Why the disconnect?
Many of those students are now taking out loans that will leave them highly indebted upon graduation. They appear to want what they’re paying for, namely, an intellectual formation.
In a time when state funding for higher education is being slashed, tuition rates are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, and student debt has surpassed $1T, why are those administrators diverting scarce resource—often at the expense of students and taxpayers—to construct luxury amenities?
Perhaps those administrators are on to something: Provide students 4 years of fun and games until they graduate. Why so?
The reality is that many of the nation’s colleges and universities aren't preparing their students for the reality they will confront upon commencement and try to enter the job market. According to a new NBER follow-up study, only 47% of graduates had full-time jobs paying more than $30k/year.
Why not spend 4 years enjoying Disneyland because graduates won’t be able to afford a trip to Disneyland any time in the near future? So much for forming the intellects of the next generation of Americans.
Let the discussion begin…
To read the Washington Post article, click on the following link:
“Colleges Drift Away From Their Academic Priorities.”