kitchen table math, the sequel: "College as Country Club"

Monday, January 28, 2013

"College as Country Club"

ABSTRACT

This paper investigates whether demand-side market pressure explains colleges’ decisions to provide consumption amenities to their students. We estimate a discrete choice model of college demand using micro data from the high school classes of 1992 and 2004, matched to extensive information on all four-year colleges in the U.S. We find that most students do appear to value college consumption amenities, including spending on student activities, sports, and dormitories. While this taste for amenities is broad-based, the taste for academic quality is confined to high-achieving students.....

In line with the human capital framework developed by Becker (1964), economists typically model education as an investment wherein individuals forgo current labor market earnings and incur direct costs in return for higher future wages. While this framework does not rule out that education may also provide immediate consumption, such consumption aspects have received little attention in the literature.1 Recently, however, there has been increasing attention devoted to the recreation that accompanies investment in higher education, as illustrated by the newspaper headlines above.2 The media attention coincides with an accumulation of evidence on limited student learning (Arum and Roksa, 2011), diminished study effort (Babcock and Marks, 2011), and declining graduation rates (Bound, Lovenhiem, and Turner, 2010).

While the evidence on whether colleges today devote a greater share of resources to consumption and recreational amenities than they have in the past is inconclusive, it is clear that there is substantial heterogeneity in the emphasis that institutions place on amenities (Jacob, McCall and Stange 2013a).3 In 2007, for example, the average ratio of amenity to academic spending was 0.51 across the roughly 1,300 four-year public and private non-profit postsecondary institutions in the United States. The ratio varied tremendously, from .26 at the 10th percentile to .80 at the 90th percentile. Thus different institutions make very different choices about the optimal level of consumption amenities to offer their students. While there are several systematic patterns to this heterogeneity – for instance, public institutions spend relatively less on consumption amenities– the sources of these patterns have not been previously explored.
COLLEGE AS COUNTRY CLUB: DO COLLEGES CATER TO STUDENTS’ PREFERENCES FOR CONSUMPTION?
Brian Jacob

Brian McCall
Kevin M. Stange
Working Paper 18745
I got soooooo tired of looking at amenities.

I don't think we saw a single professor on any of the campuses we visited.

We did see some books.

26 comments:

K9Sasha said...

When we went looking at colleges, we had the option to arrange ahead of time to spend time with a professor at University of the Pacific. Once on campus, Dr. Savitz spent a couple hours with us telling us about the engineering program, showing us her lab, and answering all our questions. We left there with a good feeling about the school, and it is where my son decided to go. He's been happy with his decision.

Catherine Johnson said...

WOW

I'm putting that 'up front' NOW.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Interesting. Wellesley was the only school I visited where I actually got to talk to professors (including one who eventually become my advisor) after touring the campus. I was completely blown away by the fact that 1) professors were there, working, while everyone was on vacation (I visited in the middle of winter break); and 2) they were actually willing to sit down with me for a good chunk of time and talk about programs and classes. It was totally different from anything I'd experienced elsewhere, and it made a huge impression. It was the first school I'd visited that actually seemed to be about, well, school. Ironically, that's what "sold" me.

Auntie Ann said...

We even had that reaction visiting 7-12 grade schools in Los Angeles. One parents' night was all about the amenities: the trips your kids could go on, the campus, the new media center, and even the specially engineered desks that were supposed to maximize...something. Other schools put the academics forward and were much more impressive for it.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

We've only done one college visit so far, and that was for a school that was not that interesting for us (University of Colorado, Boulder). We were in Boulder for a different reason, so the college visit seemed like a good way to make use of the trip.

What we did was contact faculty in the relevant department ahead of time and get an appointment. That turned out great and my son had an excellent conversation with a professor emeritus.

More details at http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/first-official-college-visit/

We will certainly try contacting faculty directly before any future college visits. It takes some time to figure out who is doing interesting work and getting one of them to agree to talk, but it is totally worth the effort.

froggiemama said...

At my school. we run several big open house events for prospective students and their families. There are lots of events on campus on those days, and each department holds breakout sessions for students to come talk with faculty. Only a minute fraction of the students on campus for the event ever come to the breakout sessions. For most students, it is all about the amenities

Catherine Johnson said...

We even had that reaction visiting 7-12 grade schools in Los Angeles. One parents' night was all about the amenities: the trips your kids could go on, the campus, the new media center,

And the thing is, in our case: WE WERE TOURING THE SUNYS.

I'm forgetting now....which SUNY showed us TWO basketball courts?

And a bowling alley?

The whole tour triggered the Irate Taxpayer module of my personality.

Bad idea.

Catherine Johnson said...

A friend of mine went to Princeton in the 1970s. When she visited recently she discovered that her dorm, which was new then, is being torn down to be replaced by....a dorm.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, I get a fair amount of feeling that college these days really is a country club -- or summer camp -- I don't remember thinking college was supposed to be fun per se -- although I do recall being amazed by the beautiful buildings that were going up then....

ChemProf said...

We call it the Amenities War, and my institution is behind -- lots of original dorms built in the 20s and 30s. If you think having a bathtub in the bathroom is cool, great, but if you want modern, we don't have it.

It is pretty clear our strategic plan will call for a new student fitness/recreation center.

AC said...

I get a fair amount of feeling that college these days really is a country club -- or summer camp

Have you read Tom Wolfe? College these days is ancient Rome, sad to say.

Auntie Ann said...

Even sadder to say, much of our society is Ancient Rome, with reality TV and torture porn movies playing the role of the coliseum, a hallowed out economy where the elites look down on the plebes who actually have to get their hands dirty, and a neglect of and disgust towards our cultural patrimony.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, dorms built in the 20s at universities were meant to last. They'd need maintenance, of course, but they were solid structures.

Many houses, office buildings, malls especially,and some schools built in the 70s had planned obsolescence. (Nno wiggly red line, so I guess that spelling's right?!)

I imagine that dorms built then, even if they were built to higher standards are mostly trashed by now. They used lower quality materials and they didn't plan for things to last. It often would cost more to redo a newer building (20-30 years old) than to redo or renovate a 80+ building.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's true -- those 70s dorms were awful.

Catherine Johnson said...

We call it the Amenities War

aaaaaauuuuuggggghhhhhh!!!!!

momof4 said...

I have visited the campus of the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, which has incredibly beautiful parts (like the 1801 original Horseshoe)and some really ugly 70s buildings. There's a faculty office building that has 2' blinders on both sides of every window - even with a corner office, you can only look straight ahead from each window - and an incredibly ugly dorm that was the fraternity dorm until the new Greek Village was built. The whole building is encased in concrete openwork squares - it may have been torn down by now - hopefully. The new dorms - all in quads, and I think suite style - are Southern Colonial pastels, like the Horseshoe. The new student fitness/rec center is incredible; climbing wall, usual fitness rooms and sports rooms/courts and both indoor and outdoor pools - 3 in all, I think, plus hot tubs.

Their Honors College is also incredible - and lots of classes are available for upperclassmen, which isn't usual. Very competitive, but literally all students get some scholarship help.

Crimson Wife said...

Yep, on my cynical days, I consider my alma mater to be not much more than a very expensive country club. The basic value I got out of my time there were a piece of paper proving to the world that I was a member of an elite group and making some very useful social connections (including my husband).

TerriW said...

Crimson Wife makes a good point. On my *most* cynical days, college is just an expensive dating/mate-selection service.

cranberry said...

While this taste for amenities is broad-based, the taste for academic quality is confined to high-achieving students.....

This is an important point. My eldest rolled her eyes at climbing walls and espresso bars, but asked about chances to perform research with professors at info sessions.

momof4 said...

So, if colleges stopped admitting students who are academically marginal, at best, they could also opt out of the amenities war and concentrate on those kids who are academically talented and motivated? Sounds like a win to me.

momof4 said...

That wasn't meant as a snarky comment; I was agreeing with Cranberry. My daughter, as a former elite swimmer, did swim laps at one of the outdoor pools and did some weights at the gym,while she was an on-campus freshman, but after that, her (private)apartment complex had a big pool and a basic gym. My son, who played club soccer, had some indoor team practices at the fitness center and occasionally used one of the pools, but the amenities weren't even part of the decision-making process in choosing schools.

Crimson Wife said...

When I was 18 and a senior in H.S., I looked academically motivated on paper, but had I been totally candid about what I was looking for in a college, I would've said "strong pre-med program, nice weather, an active Greek system, and good sports teams for which to root". My #1 choice was Stanford and my #2 choice was Duke. UCLA only didn't make the list because I felt it was too big at 26k undergrads.

Looking back, I think that I didn't get nearly as much out of my Stanford education as I could've because I placed too high a priority on the "play hard" part of work hard/play hard.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

We're planning to visit Harvey Mudd, which I understand has not been participating in the Amenities War, but has some top-notch STEM education.

ChemProf said...

Mudd definitely has some strong STEM programs, and they do compete for highly academically motivated students, so you'll get lots of talking about (and opportunities for) clinic or research.

They haven't totally opted out of the amenities war though. While the older dorms haven't changed much, the new ones have, and the dining hall is a whole different beast than it was when I attended. But yes, you'll hear more about the new learning center than the climbing wall.

cranberry said...

I don't consider rebuilding a '70s dorm an "amenities war" move. Mold is a health concern. Our neighbors' house was built during the height of the 70s oil crisis. It had very small windows, and was probably built to be as tight as possible. Modern energy-efficient buildings are much more attractive and cost-effective to run. The green buildings I've seen on college tours have been lovely. I have no idea how one could retro-fit a 70s dorm. It would be more cost-effective to build new.

Food service is an amenities war feature. College tours emphasized luxurious food options. Do college students need sushi in college dining halls. Not in my opinion.

The college process is fascinating. I suspect the students with the required grades and test scores sort themselves out into the most competitive college they can find. After years of heterogeneous grouping, they look for the most homogeneous setting they can find. Colleges outside of the most competitive group must offer "merit scholarships", i.e., discounts on tuition, to enroll the students who decide on academics.

The NYT choice blog has a recent post from a college senior who has been offered a full ride from the University of Kansas. I find the method of offering it to be over-the-top aggressive. There is no need to put a kid on the spot in his high school classroom. http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/envelope-please-leobardo-espinoza-jr-7/

Then again, they probably wanted to be featured in one of his blog posts on the Choice blog. He seems to be a great kid, and a fine writer.

lgm said...

I don't consider it country club to have safe places to get exercise in. No need to have coeds out jogging by themselves in sketchy neighborhoods when a fitness center will be much safer. I'm not expecting a posh fitness center, but I'd rather see one than none. Good health is important, as is personal safety.