Allow college students to forego climbing walls to save money

by Grace

Extraneous luxuries help drive up the cost of college. Matthew LeBar of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) suggests that going à la carte would enable families to make wiser choices and curb rising costs.

Colleges have become more than just a place of education. They are as much homes for their students as they are classrooms. As such, many colleges are competing to provide the most lavish amenities to attract students. Some services are generic and uncontroversial, but many are exorbitant and beyond reason. Although these extra amenities may not feel burdensome, they are not free. Student services are financed through student tuition and fees, driving up both.

Some services are sensible, like basic room and board.  But other perks like a jumbo Jacuzzi or a climbing wall are unnecessary and unused by many students, yet they add thousands of dollars to a college education.

Give students choices to pay for what they can afford.

Instead of forcing their students to pay for all sorts of extravagant amenities, colleges should give their students the option way to pay for what they want. If a student wants to pay for a gym membership or a climbing wall, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to. Only the students who want and use a service should be charged for it. Although taking away Jumbo Jacuzzis also removes the university’s ability to teach student how to relax in style, there are always costs, and it seems doubtful it’s worth the $2,000 students are paying for it.

The schools could still advertise that they offer these amenities, but emphasize that they personalize students’ choices while offering them the best value for their tuition dollars.  This might exacerbate class divides that exist within some elite colleges, but no solution is perfect and many families would welcome such choices.


Matthew LeBar, “‘Free’ Student Luxuries Contribute to the Rising Cost of College”, Forbes, 9/18/2014.

4 Comments to “Allow college students to forego climbing walls to save money”

  1. Well, first of all, students can opt out, by choosing a lower cost regional public university. Those schools, which often need to cater to older nontraditional students, tend to not have the fancy amenities. A CUNY branch is a fine choice too.

    While it would be fairly easy to unbundle amenities like the waterparks (just charge a yearly fee for use), most of the amenities that drive up costs can’t really be unbundled. Private schools spend a fortune on campus beautification. My school just put in lots of pretty fountains. What are students going to do, agree to close their eyes as they walk past the fountain if they haven’t paid a fountain fee? And unbundling the myriad student services, which is where I think a lot of the costs are to be found, would be quite impossible. At most schools, you will find offerings like “the office of international living programs” or “the center for service learning” or “the institute for student engagement”, all staffed with deans and assistant deans and office staff. How about the counseling center? The “writing across the curriculum” institute? All of these sound great and educational, but they rarely involve faculty and are not really core to the basic educational mission. And they drive up costs. Should we assess a fee every time a student visits the counseling center, or joins a club that is facilitated by the student engagement office? Maybe, but then you will hear students and parents grousing about hidden costs and fees, much as airline passengers complain about ticketing fees and luggage check fees.


  2. Yes, you point out the difficulties with trying to charge by the service. But the idea of being able to opt out of enjoying the landscaping does sound intriguing, and maybe something I might have selected!


  3. One thinkg that could also be examined is interscholastic athletics. Many schools, including many public universities, have mandated student fees to support interscholastic athletics. What is the value of these sports programs to the schools? Many of them say that successful sports programs help with recruiting and fund raising; the obvious question that raises is whether those benefits are greater than the cost of those programs.

    There are some top-notch schools, such as MIT and Caltech, that are examples of how NCAA D1 sports programs are not necessary to be a top school and attract the best students and fundraise successfully.


  4. MIT and Caltech are massively supported by federal grant programs and in particular, industry. Very few schools have that luxury. Even the most well known liberal arts oriented schools do not get that kind of support from industry. While I am not a huge fan of the university sports complex, I do see examples where that worked. The school where I went for grad school was a not very well endowed or supported public university when I started there. They poured money into basketball, and did well at it. Once they became nationally known in basketball, the money started flowing in, not just from private donors but also from the state legislature. There are enough examples of that approach working that lots of schools think they have to try.


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