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Testifying before the U.S. Senate in 2013, University of Wisconsin professor Sara Goldrick-Rab described college campuses as “glorified summer camps.” She said administrators were “engaging in an arms race to have the most impressive bells and whistles.” That depiction may at first seem hyperbolic, but even a cursory glance at many of today’s college campuses reveals that the “arms race” described by Goldrick-Rab is real. Lush new dormitories, recreation facilities, student activity centers, libraries, and lecture halls now dot the collegiate landscape, embodying the idea that students must be appeased with upper-middle class comforts if universities are to vie for their tuition dollars.
In this competition, however, there are no real “winners,” except perhaps for construction companies and architects being paid to make every amenity bigger, better, and more impressive than the next. Recruiters can use stylish buildings and new playspaces to lure prospective students, but unwary taxpayers, parents, and student borrowers pay the price.