‘Auxiliary Enterprises’ and the Rising Cost of College


“A few years ago we started investing in athletic facilities because we were being told by parents that the facilities weren’t as good as the facilities in their high schools, and their kids wanted to keep playing athletics,” Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, tells me. “I think the number of singles has increased. We’re seeing increased demand for science enrollment, and so spend more on labs.”

There’s some social science to suggest that McPherson’s and Hill’s experiences aren’t unique. The University of Michigan’s Brian Jacob, Brian McCall and Kevin Stange have found that most students are not likelier to attend schools that spend more on instruction (though high-achieving students are). However, all students, and in particular low-achieving and wealthy students, are likelier to attend schools that spend more on amenities like those McPherson and Hill describe. The effect isn’t huge — a 1 percent increase in amenity spending leads to a 0.3 percent increase in a wealthy student’s likeliness to attend — but it is real.

At the Washington Post, Dylan Matthews has been writing a series called “The Tuition is Too Damn High” (his previous columns are conveniently listed in a box at the top of the column) and yesterday, he looked at how colleges are updating facilities to lure students with deep pockets may be contributing to the rising cost of college. Of course, this kind of argument has been made time and again, but at least Matthews considers some data this time around.

Photo: Regents

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