Just What Indebted Students Needed: Hideously Expensive Luxury Dorms

Can students afford a night at the Ritz Carlton University?


Taj Mahal
Yann / Wikimedia Commons

Private and public university dormitories keep getting nicer and nicer—and more expensive—courtesy of soaring tuition prices and generous support from taxpayers.

Students may be graduating $30,000 in debt, but at least they live in relative opulence for four, five, or six years. From the Associated Press:

Campus living for students today is a far cry from the cramped dormitories of generations past. New facilities are geared to handle laptops, smartphones and tablets and offer Wi-Fi connectivity and extra room outlets. Suites housing two or more people — with a shared bathroom instead of communal ones — are also popular, and some of the new halls feature computer labs, study centers, cafes and even a gaming room.

Fifty-two new residence halls at private and public schools to house 19,000 students opened last year or will open this year around the U.S., with a price tag of more than $2 billion, according to Paul Abramson, an analyst with New York-based Intelligence in Education who tracks college construction. Overall, the number of new residence hall construction is up from 40 that Abramson counted a year ago for his annual May survey.

The surge comes as U.S. schools are simultaneously trying to attract students with the comforts of home while fighting perceptions that tuition hikes and other expenses are putting college out of reach for a growing number of Americans. But even as costs go up, demand for updated residence halls and other amenities is motivating schools to keep spending.

Wichita State University provides a good example of what this means for students:

At Wichita State, a new $65 million residence hall and dining facility at the center of campus has a waiting list while openings are plentiful at the university's older, lower-priced halls. It'll cost between $10,000 and $12,000 a year (including meals) to live in the new facility, compared to $6,800 a year for older residence halls.

Nicer stuff is nice, sure. Infrastructure gets old and needs to be replaced. And campuses can certainly support a range of differently-priced living options.

All that said, the trend seems to be toward more opulent housing, even as students have fallen a trillion dollars into debt to get degrees that are less and less likely to guarantee jobs. Since the federal government's loan program helps students pay the cost of college up front—no matter how insane it is—colleges have every incentive to keep raising the price.

Now that so many graduates are having trouble repaying their loans, the government is considering a number of measures to reduce or forgive their debts. It's easy to see where this leads. Since the government made the loans, taxpayers take the hit.

In other words, students may not be able to afford a night at the Ritz Carlton University, but as long as the bill doesn't come for years—or gets sent to taxpayers instead—who will notice?