Why Some Colleges are Dropping Millions on Luxury Amenities

For some, “elite education” refers to Ivy League schools or exclusive acceptance rates. Increasingly, it refers to a luxurious lifestyle accessible only to students willing to pay even higher rates than those typical for American higher education.

While nearly ninety percent of incoming college students say that they are choosing college so that they can find a job in the future, many are attracted to the idea of finding the “best” college to have the ideal college experience. Major colleges are in what is being called an “arms race” to have the most extravagant amenities to lure in high-paying students – especially out-of-state and international students who pay much higher prices for the same classes and degrees.

These colleges have gone to staggering lengths to impress incoming students and keep them happy with flashy, luxury perks that make being at college seem like one long vacation. They feature fancy dorms, gourmet food, even concierge service.

A major factor in attracting these students, especially for colleges outside major cities, is how they promise to fill student free time. Schools began creating exciting luxury features for students to enjoy while not in classes – and for tour guides to show off to prospective students and their families while they were visiting schools.

A “lazy river” might seem more at home in a water park or a resort, but students of Louisiana State University can be found enjoying a five-hundred-foot long lazy river ride of their own, which spells out the letters LSU. Louisiana State isn’t the only school with a water feature, though. Multiple colleges now boast lazy rivers, and the University of Missouri has a river grotto with a design inspired by the Playboy Mansion.

Other schools offer services to make students’ lives easier – and to make them feel like a celebrity. At High Point University in North Carolina, a security guard greets incoming students at a massive double archway and checks their names off a list like a bouncer meeting VIPs. Students and parents park in spaces with their names in LED lights on them. For accepted students, they have an on-campus steak house for students, golf carts, and five swimming pools.

High Point University also has a Concierge service that will drive students, make phone calls, and handle travel reservations – and they aren’t the only college doing it. New Mexico State University features campus a concierge service called the Crimson Concierge Program, “to alleviate student stress.” They assist students in booking dinner reservations, vacations, and will even do housework, cleaning, and laundry, for an upcharge. The staff has referred to the concierges as, a “mother away from home” who “would do anything a mother would do.”

These luxuries come at a high price, even without paying for premium housing or meal plans. State universities can be over $100,000 and private colleges over $300,000. Some students have noted that flashy perks like modern luxury dorms can come at the expense of more traditional school needs. For instance, students at Louisiana State University have complained that the library building is in disrepair, despite the lazy river.

How it all started

Schools that wanted to attract students who could afford to pay their high sticker prices realized quickly that they had to build housing that was up to the standard of living that these young people were used to. Some colleges began to get competitive about having the best, newest, and most comfortable dorms.

This has been tremendously effective for some colleges. The University of Southern California once facetiously referred to as “the university of second choice,” spent $700,000,000 on a new village development, in a neo-Gothic style that evokes a more classical era of education. While this is clearly not the reason they are now so much more competitive, it is representative of the image they are projecting to the wealthy families of prospective students who tour the school.

Other schools choose to provide premium housing for premium costs. At High Point University, housing and dining upgrades starting at over $15,000, but additional upgrades of up to $12,256 are available. While these prices, equivalent to an entire year’s tuition at some community colleges, are out of reach for some, others are willing to pay for these luxuries.

“I want my children to be exposed to the finer things,” he told a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter. “Most parents do.”

Sources: Forbes, Future U Podcast, CBS News, Town and Country Magazine, Inside Higher Ed

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