Should Students Have Any Say in Where Their Tuition Goes?

Students everywhere are fed up with how their schools are using their tuition money, prompting them to want to be involved in the decision-making process

As a former college tour guide, I can assure you that the newest building is what intrigues prospective students the most. When touring a college for the first time, potential students want to see how modern the school is.

Brand-new buildings add to the wow factor for prospective students. What many students don’t know is that while the library might be completely renovated, the dorms across campus may very well be covered in mold.

In an effort to attract new students, many universities are pouring their money into new, extravagant buildings while current students are left neglected.

Universities across America spent a whopping $11.5 billion in 2015 on new buildings in an effort to attract aspiring pupils, despite the fact that enrollment is has been leveling off, if not falling, over the years.

The urge to build new buildings is putting a strain on maintenance resources and putting the schools in debt while also causing the cost of attendance to increase.

It’s important to note that “their” money is, in most cases, student tuition money. This begs the question: should students have any say in where their tuition money goes?

As university institutions’ spending habits come to light, many students are questioning their lack of power in making college uniquely their ow. (Image via Dhuvra Reddy)

Across college campuses in the U.S., protests are erupting over where student tuition is going. Many are angry over the universities constant acquisition of new property, while student residence halls are neglected and their departments are understaffed and underpaid.

Schools are constantly buying new property and/or building new buildings, while students believe that money should be used to fix the numerous instances of mold, water damage, broken elevators and many other inconveniences.

In Seton Hall University’s case, many students last year were upset about the noisy, early-morning construction on campus in order to build a new welcome center.

The new welcome center took away much-needed parking spaces and was an example of unnecessary spending since there were already buildings in place needing renovations.

When Seton Hall students voiced their concerns, the administration stated they should find new living arrangements. It is clear that student tuition is going to purchases that don’t benefit the current students.

Many students believe that they should have a say in where their money is going and they’re using protests as a way to speak out about it. However, do students even have a right to dictate what universities do with their tuition money once it’s in the school’s possession?

Although interesting to look at, trendy and luxurious university purchases take much-needed funds away from students (Image via Pepi Stojanovski)

A 2010 New York Times article makes a similar point by asking if students should be regarded as “customers” instead of traditional students. If more schools took on a student-consumer approach, then students might have more say in what they are taught and how they are judged.

Similarly, with the student-consumer approach, one would assume that students would be able to have more say in what their tuition goes to.

“To deny that higher education is a product and students are customers is to duck the tough questions we should be asking,” Mark C. Taylor, chairman of the religion department at Columbia University states.

“The recent financial meltdown has exposed fatal flaws in a system that is now unraveling. With declining assets (plummeting endowments), growing liabilities (increasing debt), growing fixed costs and declining income, you don’t have to be a business school professor to realize that higher education is on the brink of financial disaster.”

The impending financial disaster is most likely due to frivolous spending on the universities parts. Universities are constantly buying and building “nice to have” perks while continuing to be stingy on financial aid, academics and quality of living for on-campus students.

On the issue, James V. Koch said, “student fees are being unwisely funneled into wasteful amenities that do little to increase access to underrepresented students, improve the quality of education, or boost student outcomes.”

Lousiana State University faced extensive budget cuts, even while building a luxurious ‘lazy river’ on campus (Image via Rotolo Consultants Inc)

Koch gives the example of “lazy rivers” being built at colleges such as the Louisiana State University. The leisure rivers were part of an $85 million renovation project and the students were the ones who paid for it.

Additionally, you can also see evidence of universities using student tuition irresponsibly when you look at schools such as the University of Washington who spent science grant money on frivolous items. The school spent a bulk of the grant money on snuggies, pottery and approximately $23,000 on a Hawaiian vacation.

To help avoid irresponsible spending at your school, Koch recommends those that are passionate about university spending to get in contact with local government and media.

“Our nation’s governors must also play a role,” Koch said. “As they appoint public university trustees, they can and should mandate training to make university boards responsible to taxpayers and students.”

It is clear that universities and trustees do not always prioritize students first, so it is up to students themselves to advocate for the responsible allocation of student tuition money.

Reaching out to local government and media might be the push needed for universities to realize that letting students participate in the decision-making process when it comes to the use of student tuition would be beneficial and cost-effective.

It’s time for higher education institutions to put more faith in the millennials who make up the majority of their student population. Students have several smart ideas about where student tuition money should be spent, many of which would save money, increase the quality of living on campus and decrease the amount of tuition.

Cleo-Symone Scott, Virginia Commonwealth University

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Cleo Symone Scott

Virginia Commonwealth University
Political Science


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