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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | Last updated: 4:56pm

Luxury, not academic standards, attract students to lower-ranked colleges



For many college students today, brand new dormitories and gyms are more important than stellar academic programs.

At least, that’s what a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found. The study, entitled “College as Country Club,” showed that many college-bound high school seniors, especially those “less academically-oriented,” value luxury more than rigorous educational standards.

This trend is quite new, as colleges offered few amenities in our parents’ days. Dorms had tiny, cell-like rooms, and common rooms with giant flat screen TVs were unheard of. Food was mainly cafeteria-level slop not much better than high school food.

Today, things are different, especially when it comes to food. For example, the UA has a wide array of franchise restaurants as well as university-managed food services.

While the UA certainly has some competitive and rigorous programs, academically, it’s not the University of Southern California. The UA is also not particularly hard to get into, as it has a 71.4% acceptance rate, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Since it’s not renowned for its academics, the UA must distinguish itself in other ways. The NBER study found that many colleges have been building new and luxurious facilities in order to stay competitive and attract more applicants.

This should hardly be surprising — if you’re not going to an Ivy League university, then why not have some fun?

While in high school, I attended a summer program at Yale University. The 200-year-old stone buildings were admittedly beautiful, but actually living in them was a nightmare. It was clear that most of the buildings had not been updated in decades.

It seems as though the higher a college’s academic reputation is, the less money it spends on student facilities. This is not coincidental. The study also concluded that “higher achieving students” were more willing to pay for academic quality than “less academically-oriented peers.”

The authors of the study also wrote that more affluent students valued “consumption amenities,” such as state-of-the-art recreational facilities and elaborate dorms and residence halls.

Aerospace engineering freshman Evan Baroni said updated facilities could sway him toward attending a school.

Noor Jarki, a journalism sophomore, said that she would rather live in an apartment with many amenities than in a cheap one.

“I would prefer to have everything,” Jarki said.

Luxury apartment complexes with large, well-appointed apartments, as well as pools and gyms on-site, are targeted directly at students; here in Tucson, The District, The Cadence and The Retreat are all names of well-known complexes that fit this bill, and they’re soon to be joined by Level.

The developers of these complexes know what students want, and clearly, so do colleges and universities across the U.S. Many students want luxury and convenience, and they are willing to pay top dollar for it.

So what if colleges are turning into country clubs?

Critics of rising tuition prices will say that spending on luxuries is out of line because they aren’t relevant or necessary to education.

But if a college isn’t high on the Princeton Review’s best colleges list, it has to attract applicants another way.

— David Weissman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu, or on twitter via @WildcatOpinions.


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