This entry is part [part not set] of 6 in the series The Student Debt Crisis

Unfortunately, higher education has seen a shift in recent years towards college being more about a life experience than an education. One of our students at Eternity recently surveyed a large group of other college students attending schools throughout a nearby county to better understand their culture. One respondent said something to the effect that “I only have two months left of college and I need to make the most of it. I’m going to party every night.” That same person’s parent agreed that it’s just what you do during that time of life so she might as well do it now while she can.

The Cost of Experience
The implications of such a shift are significant and can be evidenced in the budgets of many institutions of higher education. Large amounts of money are pumped into athletics, administrative and operational costs that have very little to with student instruction. Gaining an “experience” isn’t necessarily bad, except that the typical college experience does little to prepare students for real life in society. Knowing that the average student is leaving their collegiate program with $30,000 in debt, I think a series of questions need to be asked to really consider why education costs are so high and whether the experience is worth it:

    1.How much money is spent on athletics?
    A study of college budgets (both public and private) from 1998-2008 found that between 2005 and 2008, median athletic spending per student athlete was between four to ten times higher than median spending per student for education & related expenses. The follow up question is inevitable. Is it really right/just to have a number of students go into debt so that other students may play games?

    2. How much money is being spent on facilities & grounds?
    Is having a nice fountain, nicely manicured lawns & fresh flowers every week (yes, I know of multiple schools that plant new flowers weekly) worth students going into debt?

    3. What are the salaries of administrators? Most institutions are paying their administration strong six figure salaries, but those salaries are being funded on the backs of student debt.

    4. How much do institutions spend on research?
    A lot of people who have no business teaching classes are doing so simply to fund their research at universities. Students often suffer as they struggle to learn under instructors who are very intelligent, but are poor translators of knowledge.

    5. What is the real cost of instruction?
    The study already cited found that “among all types of institutions, the share of spending going to pay for the direct cost of instruction has declined slightly.” Did you catch that? While overall spending has increased dramatically, schools spend less on actual instruction of students!

These questions, along with many others, need to be answered. Are these things essential to higher education (yes, we need administration, but do they need to be paid that much?) or are these things simply adding to the cost of higher education & subsequently adding to the debt load of students?

The standard response is that the athletic programs & the facilities contribute to the recruitment of new students, which in turn provides additional revenue streams for the institution or that the athletic programs often generate revenue for schools (which is only true of top tier NCAA D1 football & basketball programs). But neither of these actually addresses the issue. These things contribute to the overall operating cost of the institution and do not contribute to the academic outcomes of the school. If they do, where’s the evidence? It would seem that modern institutions have been shaped to provide students with an experience rather than simply an education, and students are paying dearly for this.

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  1. I understand that maybe some of the money needs to be redistributed but please don’t refer to athletics as “playing games.” At my college, student athletes had to work many times harder than other regular students. They had mandatory training on top of there school work, had to maintain their grades more so than the average students because if their GPA’s dropped, they couldn’t participate; they had rules to regulate their off campus lifestyles, and they had their academic schedules coupled with crazy traveling schedules. Please don’t refer to athletes as ” playing games.” With all due respect, it shows ignorance and insult to some of the most diligent students I’ve ever met.

    • No doubt they keep a rigorous schedule, and many are indeed great scholars. But that does not change a simple reality, as student-athletes they participate in the playing of games. Participation in such games contributes significantly to the cost of schools which in turn gets passed on to other students who are not playing those games.

  2. We should not lose sight of what is not seen on Saturday afternoons in the falls or during March Madness. That would be the young ladies of a crew team out on the water before 6:00 am, cross country runners training as the sun goes down on a Saturday evening as their class mates complete their plans for a night out, the soccer team on two 15 passenger vans getting back to campus at 1:00 am after having driven four hours to get home after a match, and etc… The real student athlete who could not attend college is not just “playing games” on the back of the non-athletes and it is naive and short sighted to think so. If we are going to cut out athletics, let’s move on to cut out aid and funding for music and theatre majors, debate and forensic majors, missions opportunities at Christian colleges, and other areas that pull funding away from the classroom. Sounds ludicrous, just as it does when we describe athletes as just “playing games”.

    • Amen Lane! It is far beyond playing games when you put in as much effort as they do. It’s a game when you do it casually. And yes it is a game to a degree, but it’s more than a game when athletes take a sport that seriously.

    • Lane, I appreciate your response, simply stated how is the student athlete not being funded on the backs of non-athletes? This was no means a post arguing for or against athletics simply an issue of funding. Are you ok with non-athletes incurring debt so that other students may participate in athletic endeavors (I recognize that using the term game could be deemed offensive as some of the athletic engagements are referred to as meets or matches).

      And while you think it is ludicrous, I do think you have to ask if other programs should be funded, I think that is a valid question. If college is to be about providing academic training, is it right/just to have students go into debt to fund non-academic programs?

  3. The argument is not if a person works hard or sacrifices to do a certain activity but if that activity should be subsidized by the rest of the student population. If an institutions stated aim is to provide an education in some discipline then should not the vast majority of that money go to that aim? I went to a university that has an endowment in the billions and this is not used to reduce the cost charged to students but to things that bring glory to the university (i.e. football and basketball, research, building new buildings, planting new flowers, etc…). It is this fund raising and increase in student fees and tuition that do not go directly to education that is so troubling.
    The efforts spent doing things not related to the purpose of going to an institution is between that person and God. But we need to ask the question should the budgets of these universities go to those things that don’t directly aid in the education of students? And if they should what is an appropriate and fair way to distribute the resources of that school?