How am I Supposed to Learn Anything without a Lazy River and Wet Wall?

This article appeared in See Thru Ed on May 19, 2015.
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It’s easy to blame sheer greed for colleges raising their prices at breakneck speeds — I know, I’ve done it — but it would be wrong to conclude they’re doing it only because they’re hopelessly money‐​grubbing. No, as Jacob, McCall, and Stange have found, colleges often have to furnish expensive amenities, dorms, etc., to compete for students.

A great illustration of this is Louisiana State University’s pending $85 million recreation facility, which it was recently reported would be completed even as the state’s higher ed system faces potentially $500 million in funding cuts.

How could this be, you ask? Shouldn’t all dollars be directed toward academics?

Not if LSU wants to successfully vie for students against competitor institutions suggests this article and Jacob, McCall, and Stange. LSU needs a “lazy river” with “bubbler lounges” because Texas A&M has “a zero‐​depth entry in its leisure area, raindrop fountain, a three stream bubble fountain and an adjacent 12 person in‐​ground hot tub.” Auburn sports a “200,000 gallon leisure pool that has three different depths to accommodate water sports and other leisure pool activities. They also have a 45‐​person, tiger‐​shaped hot tub and fire pit, in the shape of a tiger paw.” And, of course, they have an AquaClimb Wet Wall. And don’t forget all the wet and wild fun at the University of MissouriColorado State, and more!

But how do students pay for all this? The answer is that to a significant extent they don’t. Taxpayers do.

True, in many cases the campus Splash Mountain might not be funded directly by taxpayers, but they subsidize public universities’ academic functions, freeing up students to pay for the fun stuff. And, of course, many students carry ever‐​increasing aid they can use for paying all those recreation fees and other non‐​tuition costs. In many cases Mom and Dad also likely help out, but all to basically the same effect: someone else is paying for students’ choices, so students demand things — sometimes very indulgent things — they likely would not demand were they paying their own way, or even with money provided by profit‐ and risk‐​conscious lenders.

So, next time someone tells you the price of college is going up because of cheap states — or even just remorselessly greedy schools — tell them to go jump in a lake. Or even better, a lazy river with a raindrop fountain, fire pit, and AquaClimb Wet Wall.