The National Bureau of Economic Research released an interesting paper this week that should have far-reaching implications for how schools attract high school students in the future. I know, that sentence was incredibly fucking boring. Stay with me here.
The paper is called "College as Country Club: Do Colleges Cater to Students’ Preferences for Consumption?" It makes the case that schools which spend more money on "elaborate residence halls, recreation centers and other amenities" gain more applicants than their competitors. Even if the increased discretionary spending means that tuition rises.
So, the paper continues, there's a good chance that less selective schools in the future will focus more on amentities, which will enable them to attract the wealthier, less academically inclined kids out there. Hence the term "country club colleges."
Due to growing student debt levels and ever-increasing tuitions, higher education institutions have been facing public scrutiny. Colleges typically defend their spending on amenities as a way to stay competitive with other schools, and the National Bureau research suggests this might be a smart approach.
The authors wrote that "demand-side market pressure" -- that is, the increasing number of high school graduates who are college bound -- "may not compel investment in academic quality, but rather in consumption amenities."
"Higher achieving students" are more willing to pay for academic quality than their "less academically-oriented peers," the paper's authors wrote, while wealthier students are more willing to pay for "consumption amenities," like fancy dorms and rec centers. This could provide incentive for less selective schools who aren't at the top of the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review rankings to focus on amenities.
Why is this interesting? Think back to what Cuuuubes said a few days ago about how universities are screwing up. Actually, I'll just repost it:
Why in the world are schools building new buildings? What is required in a business school classroom that is any different from the classroom for psychology or sociology or english or any other number of classes? A new library, seriously? What is worse is that schools are taking on debt to pay for this new construction.
Think about this from a business perspective. Schools are seeing state and federal funding decline, as it should. Why should taxpayers be paying for another building ?
They are seeing their primary revenue source, tuition, once a number that was never really questioned, becoming a value decision by prospective students. As they should.
Unless your parents are wealthy or you quality for a full ride or something close, the days of picking a school because that is the school you always wanted to go to are gone.
The class of 2014 and beyond now has to prepare a college value plan. What classes are you going to take online that enables you to get the most credits for the least cost. What classes are you going to take at a local, low-cost school so you can get additional credits at the lowest cost.
Here's my main question: What if colleges soon realize that the one-sized-fits-all model of traditional college education—where everyone goes to the same type of four-year university—is obsolete?
Much like the Internet has broken down so many other industries into certain niches, it's not inconceivable to think that it will also break down the college system into a more personalized form of education. Have one type of school meant for lower-income and academically accomplished kids. Maybe it's online-only, but it's still prestigious, and employers know that it was difficult to get into and graduate from. Then have another type of school for the wealthier and non-academically motivated kids—a school more in line with the idea of the "country club college."
To go off an analogy Cubes used... The Internet has ensured that home delivery of a newspaper has gone from a necessity to something widely considered a luxury. Could the same thing happen to brick-and-mortar colleges? Could they become a luxury that you don't necessarily need to further your career—and instead just something more to "enjoy"?
This is probably all pointless Friday afternoon bullshitting. But I think there's something important that connects these two stories. As online classes become more technologically advanced, and as country club colleges become more prominent, I do think we're going to see some major changes in how we think about the concept of the four-year university. I mean, I hope things don't change too much, though. Everyone should get a chance to go through the awesome college experience.
So shit got too serious there.