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Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Today's Dollars

Many misunderstand the importance of campus facilities and their associated costs. As an outsider, an old building may work for you — the thought process being, “If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” As an insider, charged with recruiting and retaining students, your campus facilities can be a make-it-or-break-it proposition. As a student, you are not likely to settle for less, if given the choice.

Things have changed, along with costs and expectations. The loaf of bread that I paid $0.20 for in the 1960s now costs me $1.40. The $0.70 cup of coffee now runs $6.00. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when we look at today’s costs for education and facilities. In the 1970s, the average size of a house was approximately 1,400 square feet, and it was not uncommon for siblings to share a bedroom. Today, the average size has doubled, and most children grow up having their own rooms. It shouldn’t be a surprise that student and parent expectations have changed when it comes to residence halls.

When it comes to classroom spaces, our sole focus used to be on net-assignable space and efficiency ratios. The assumption was that learning could only take place in a formal location. We now know that flexibility, areas for informal communications and self-organizing groups are just as important. This has changed not only classroom design, but also has transformed residence halls into living-learning communities. In my opinion, a college education is about more than making a person “book smart.” It should be about creating a well-rounded person who will thrive in life beyond college. I recently read an article about money wasted on athletic facilities and student housing. In short, the author said spending on facilities like this is taking away from money spent on educational programs and does nothing to help the students or the university. I disagree!

To educate a student, a school must first recruit that student to their campus, and then keep them there. While I agree that student and parent expectations for amenities provided in residence halls border on the ridiculous, most are willing to pay. As for athletics, not only does an award-winning football team make money from increased ticked revenues, alumni donations and annual fund contributions to the university increase as well. The university will likely also see spikes in applications, which it can use to either grow enrollment or become more selective. As far as I am concerned, this is a good investment and a win-win for all.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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