Workers put in place the glass windows for the front stairwell of the new student center toward the end of last week. The front page of the USF St. Petersburg website boasts the building is now 75 percent complete. It is scheduled to open in the fall, brining with it the dining services USFSP has been noticeably lacking since opening its first residential building—Residence Hall One—in 2006.
In 2010, when the phrase “rising tuition costs” hadn’t quite reached the level of the overused cliché it seems to have taken on, President Barack Obama did a conference call for college journalists in which he answered questions and detailed his administration’s efforts to help college students.
He commented at the time on the rising importance of amenities on college campuses—and the toll they take on students’ wallets.
“You’re not going to a university to join a spa; you’re going there to learn so that you can have a fulfilling career,” he said. “And if all the amenities of a public university start jacking up the cost of tuition significantly, that’s a problem.”
Dining services on a residential campus hardly falls under the same category of amenities as a spa. The University of California at Irvine features outdoor gathering spaces with fancy lounge chairs and large fireplaces. In 2005, Rutgers opened a luxury dorm building that featured a new gym facility, a Coldstone Creamery, and grocery delivery, room cleaning and laundry services. Compared to a growing number of colleges and universities, the plans for dining services are downright Spartan.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Countless data and plenty of first hand experience from the students receiving the bills have shown that not only is tuition continually on the rise, but also is significantly higher than ever before (the average cost of a 4-year education in the ’90s was around $8,000). Students need to think carefully about what they’re spending their money on. The number of degree programs, the quality and reputation of the faculty, classroom size, course availability—these are the kind of factors that should trump the availability luxury dorm and dining fixtures.
USFSP has been working during the past several years to make the campus more attractive to residential students. The plan for dining services is the next logical step on that road, with existing features like the fitness center and pool, and talks turning to improving lounge spaces.
With looming budget cuts, some are questioning how the university will be able to keep a handle on course offerings and class sizes. But at the same time, its investment in new academic buildings like the more recent Science and Technology Building shows a sustained commitment to the education students come here to obtain. Universities should continue to strive for balance in those two areas, to avoid needless extra costs to students, while students themselves need to consider what’s really important for their educations.
The amenities are an important part of the college experience. The extras—nice athletics facilities, lounges and pools, well-stocked dining halls—are more than just extras. They add that bit of atmosphere—that shared social experience that can make college feel like home away from home.
But with costs on the rise at most schools, students shouldn’t forget that after four or more years and thousands of dollars, they can’t list their universities’ pool or lounge on their resumes.