Heard About the Facilities Arms Race? One Professor Says You Should Be Skeptical

"Kevin R. McClure has read a lot of news articles about a facilities 'arms race' in higher education that is frequently blamed for driving up colleges’ tuition prices and making them more selective. In fact, he has started a list of such articles and recently wrote a 1,900-word blog post questioning the assumption that such a thing exists and how to measure it," according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
 
"One problem with that assumption is that there isn’t really any clear definition of what we mean by 'amenities.' And there’s little data confirming that such a competition is really taking place on campuses, or the extent to which the phenomenon may be making college more expensive, says Mr. McClure, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
 
To find out more, The Chronicle talked to Mr. McClure about his post and what had inspired it. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length."
 
McClure said, "We are assuming there is a connection between amenities and the price that students pay, but we don’t have evidence to support that assumption. In fact, what little evidence we do have suggests the opposite. It says these amenities are easy targets; they often provide poor optics, but when we look at the totality of college costs, they amount to a pretty small share that students would be expected to shoulder.
 
Another complexity is that some of the things we think of as amenities, students themselves vote on to pay for. So students have made the decision to levy a fee on themselves because they want a new amenity brought to campus.
 
I hope that we as higher-education researchers dig into these questions. Some of the research I’ve done looks at campus climate for affordability, and one of the things that we show in our paper [forthcoming in August in the Journal of Student Financial Aid] is that some of the physical features of a campus can still have an effect on students’ ability to afford college, in the sense that they may contribute to lots of small costs that add up for a student who’s on the margins financially. An example would be a campus convenience store that may charge an exorbitant amount for milk or produce.
 
So I think there is still possibly a connection between college affordability and campus amenities. We just don’t have enough direct evidence of it and need to do more research."
 
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Publication Date: 7/20/2017

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