Academia should come before amenities

Annastazia Camarena

As we all hear about the financial burden of rising college tuition, we can’t help but to want better things at our universities, especially as prospective college students.

Now more than ever we see new renovations and investments in luxury living standards and consumption amenities. These, rather than academic value of the university, are all aimed to attract potential college freshmen and transfers.

Although universities are cutting corners left and right with programs and services, many students have seen more and more of their schools invest in college “consumptions amenities,” like residence halls, sports clubs and recreation centers. This widespread wave of renovation and building projects takes steep investments. These investments are raising faster than spending on education, which inevitably has people questioning the priorities of college spending.

In defense of the lavish projects many colleges are investing in is the strategy the universities chose to remain competitive among other postsecondary education institutions. Inside Higher Education reports that less selective schools that aren’t exactly top-ranked may see the investment in consumption amenities as an incentive in order to attract more applicants.

When Richard Vedder, a professor at Ohio University who studies economics in high education, spoke on the matter of these amentities, he said that “this is the country-clubization of the American University.”

Here at NIU, there have been several renovation projects, including upgrades to existing amenities and creating new perks and housing. In the past four years, NIU has renovated some Grant Towers and Cole Hall and is constructing Gilbert Hall into a modern residence hall. The university also plans to renovate the main floor of the Holmes Student Center with an updated lab, a printer/business center, lounge area for study groups and a coffee shop with wireless Internet access. NIU also plans to create an Outdoor Recreation Sports Complex to meet the needs of students who want to drop-in for some recreational fun, play intramural sports or participate in sport clubs programs.

Funding for these projects is made possible through the sale of Build America Bonds created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. But NIU’s latest completed project is the New Residence Halls, a privately-funded 1,000-bed resident hall complex providing a higher luxury living standards for students living on-campus.

At the building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, NIU President John Peterssaid, “By the time that we finish with our renaissance next year we will have replaced or refurnished more than one-third of all of our student housing.”

The new residence hall is an example of “NIU’s residential renaissance and the vision 2020 goal of becoming the most student-research centered university in the Midwest.”

Although many of the residence halls are in need of renovation, these projects and upgrades are going to cost a pretty penny.

Are these lavish renovations and luxury building projects going to keep NIU competitive in attracting more applicants or are they just risky investments? Is the university focusing too much on fancy amenities rather than the education of our students? Even with enrollment down, maybe we should be focusing on the needs of current students rather than the wants of perspective ones.