Saturday, December 15, 2012

Building a Showcase Campus, Using an I.O.U. From the NYTimes.

Some call it the Edifice Complex. Others have named it the Law of More, or the Taj Mahal syndrome.

Drexel University in Philadelphia has amassed $467 million in debt to expand its campus, building a new student center and other facilities.

A decade-long spending binge to build academic buildings, dormitories and recreational facilities — some of them inordinately lavish to attract students — has left colleges and universities saddled with large amounts of debt. Oftentimes, students are stuck picking up the bill.

Overall debt levels more than doubled from 2000 to 2011 at the more than 500 institutions rated by Moody’s, according to inflation-adjusted data compiled for The New York Times by the credit rating agency. In the same time, the amount of cash, pledged gifts and investments that colleges maintain declined more than 40 percent relative to the amount they owe.



  1. Replies
    1. Ah, but that's what alumni are for, aren't they? But much of this situation was caused by the vanity of the senior administrators.

      A few years ago, I received my annual grovel-and-plead telephone call from my alma mater. The munchkin on the other end of the line was close to tears about how the institution had a multi-million dollar shortfall in funding.

      That struck me as odd because I couldn't conceive of the government under-funding post-secondary educational institutions. But some time later, I figured out what the real story was. That "shortfall" wasn't due to the government. The president wanted to build (needless) facilities that were worth the amount that the university was, allegedly, in the hole for.

      The reason for those facilities? The city in which the institution is located was bidding to hold a future World's Fair or some such thing with the university being one of the jewels in the city's crown. At the same time, the current president said for years that the university would become one of the world's top 20, and that costs money.

      Fortunately, the city didn't win the bid. (It can't even clear snow properly and they wanted to host a World's Fair?) Unfortunately, the money-grubbing telephone calls still keep coming every year with similar nose-stretchers.

      By the way, the last I heard, my alma mater is well down in the world rankings.

  2. The article, in a rather dismissive tone, mentioned some universities building such things as a "lazy river" on campus. Grandiose Mental State University, the institution where I got my MA and PhD, built a lazy river as a central feature of its new aquatics center.

    The new pool complex cost an arm and a leg, and it actually had to be scaled down from the original project, but the facility is quite nice, and it's popular. It's crowded with students and faculty, and in the summer months, it's a huge draw for the local community. Plus, the new aquatics center employs a huge number of students, so I'd argue that the project seems to have paid off in those respects.

    Plus, the new aquatics facility helps prevent potential fatalities. I witnessed an incident where two of my coworkers at the old pool nearly got killed while converting the old pool facility from summer to winter use.

    So...while I don't think that every student actually needs her/his own private room with an en-suite terlet, sometimes what seems like an extravagance is actually a good investment.

  3. Drexel?

    Couldn't they just pretend that Penn's buildings are theirs?


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