Higher Ed Amenities

What is an “amenity”? Let’s formally define that term: Google tells us that it’s “a desirable or useful feature or facility of a building or place,” or “the pleasantness of a place or a person.”

For the purposes of our discussion today, let’s combine and specify those definitions in terms of my post’s title: “A college amenity is a feature of their campus or mode of operation that results in broad pleasantness for the student body.” Sounds good. Let’s explore.

One of the most fundamental questions asked by parents about college is, “What are we getting for our money when we send our child to college?” Fair enough.

Thinking back to my college days (I always want to write “daze”), I recall, among other delights, some specifically spartan amenities: cinder-block-walled dorms, a public pay phone halfway down a long hallway, a gym that smelled like thrice-worn sweat socks, and tennis-team courts shared with the public in a park. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Of course that was then and this is now. The reason I bring up this topic of amenities is because I got to thinking about business “overhead,” how much it costs to run a business. Colleges are big business. If you don’t believe that, or take issue with my statement, just take a look at the operating budgets of your flagship state university. I took a moment to check my flagship alma mater’s operating budget and found this amazing statement: “Penn State’s total operating budget for 2017-18 is $5.7 billion.” [That’s their bold emphasis, not mine.]

That number bowled me over. That’s almost 6,000 million dollars! Yikes. No wonder Penn State is in the top three for most expensive in-state-student costs, no thanks to Pennsylvania taxpayers. But that’s a long, convoluted, and controversial story.

So, back on topic, With a four-year degree now approaching a quarter million dollars (check this out) at the high end, parents should expect some perks. “Like what?” you may ask. Well, I’m glad you did.

I went searching for “best college amenities” and found, as expected, a long list of links explaining what I wanted to see. So, I went with this one: 30 Colleges with the Best Extras. Let’s see what you might be getting for your quarter mil (or whatever outrageous amount you pay to play). Here’s the article’s intro, by Rowan Jones:

It is a university’s responsibility to keep students happy, interested, and occupied, both inside and outside of the classroom. Young men and women across the country work hard, stressful hours in their college careers, and deserve all of the benefits and extras that a college campus can offer. It is crucial for students to be comfortable and excited at the prospect of living at a school that will be their home for 4 years or more. Without plenty of activities, places to visit and eat, and programs to take advantage of, it might not seem worth all the work if students aren’t having fun. This list of 30 colleges with the best extras offers a group of schools with exciting events, festivals, programs, organizations, facilities, and amenities provided on their campuses. It is meant to introduce students to schools that allocate proper funds and resources to campus and student life.

The primary criteria for the list was based on the availability of student programs, impressive on-campus facilities, and events offered on each school’s campus, all of which clearly show commitment to the dynamics of the college experience.

Accordingly, then, here are some beief excerpts from a sampling of the 30. Hopefully, these will inspire you to read the whole list and then compare — either favorably or unfavorably —  your current or prospective college(s) with these amenity-laden schools.

– Kennesaw State University in Georgia, has the largest LEED-Gold certified dining hall in the nation, The Commons, at 54,000 square feet, is a dining hall that contains nine separate eating locations where hungry students can browse through selections of fresh, sustainably produced, farm-to-table menu items. … All pork, chicken, and speciality meats are locally raised. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diet plans designed by in-house dietitians are readily available, and The Commons offers courses concerning the importance of a healthy diet and cooking techniques. If the nine locations in The Commons are just not enough, there are seven other eateries on campus such as the KSU sports bar, The Hoot, Jazzman’s Café and Bakery, Chick-Fil-A Express, Burrito Bowl, Delancey New York Deli, Freshëns, and Hissho Sushi—a delicious collection of KSU dining opportunities.

– Students with a passion for multicultural affairs have luxurious living arrangements at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2010, the University opened this $175 million investment, the North Quadrangle Residential and Academic Complex, known simply as “the North Quad” by U of M students. This academic building/dormitory hybrid is housing designed for students in international and intercultural programs, and is meant to increase multicultural awareness across campus. The dorm houses 450 students, sophomores and above, in single, double, and triple occupancy rooms with lounges, couches, and private and semi-private bathrooms. … A dining hall is located within the complex that was awarded dining gold status by the National Association of College and University Food Services in 2011. The menu includes items such as salmon filet, lamb steaks, and sometimes, even delicacies such as shark. …

– The Aquatic Facility at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta is, essentially, an indoor water park for adults. There is a 184 foot, curly water slide that winds down into the Vernon D. and Helen D. Crawford Pool, which is comprised of a lazy river, a shallow play area, six 25 yard lanes, a diving well, a hot tub, and a 16-person spa with an outdoor patio. Adjacent to the Crawford Pool is the competition pool, which was originally built for the 1996 Olympic Games. … Students interested in recreational swimming have the option to join the Swim Club, Water Polo Club, Canoe and Kayak Club, Triathlon Club, or Scuba Diving Club. Scuba Divers can rent expensive, quality, university equipment, rather than buying their own, and take a yearly diving trip to island countries such as Bonaire in the Caribbean. The Campus Recreation Center offers some striking features of its own—the H20 Café overlooks the Crawford Pool and serves Freshëns smoothies, snacks, and Starbucks coffee …

 Middlebury College in Vermont has a collection of fun, strange, and delightful traditions that are dearly cherished by the student body. During the first weekend of school, Midd College starts the year off with Fall Frenzy, a weekend of free concerts, outdoor activities and games, and picnics serving delicious food from the professional chefs of the university dining service. Midnight Breakfast is offered at the three, unique campus dining halls during the busy, stressful, (and appetite provoking) final exam periods. … for the past 90 years at Middlebury, students and community members have participated in this February weekend of celebration and revelry—bonfires, fireworks, local food, concerts, snow sculptures, ice shows, the Midd Panther ski races, and the Winter Carnival Ball.

– Texas Tech University in Lubbock, built an $8.4 million outdoor leisure pool—the largest and most elaborate in the country. Completed in 2009, the Student Leisure Pool is the pinnacle of the Recreational Sports Department at TTU. It features a 645 foot lazy river, an 8-lane lap pool, a 25-person hot tub, a diving well with a diving board and drop slide, a snack bar, water basketball, volleyball courts, as well as numerous wading pools and fountains. Many students profess that it is a great place to relax after work or class, or spend some quality time in the sun with friends and other students. There is ample space for suntanning, high speed wireless access, and an abundance of inner tubes, rafts, and other water toys to play with, too. … For easy and relaxing transportation from the leisure pool, to dorm, to class (as well as weekend trips), the university has a free bike rental program with a bike shop open for all maintenance issues. The Recreational Sports Department has many other sports facilities on campus: 7 basketball courts, a climbing wall with over 4,000 square feet of wall, a 6,500 square foot free-weight room, a 5,300 square foot workout space with 180 pieces of equipment, 8 tennis courts, and a gazebo for picnics. Indeed, Texas Tech is in no short supply of relaxation facilities for its students.

– The University of Missouri, or Mizzou, in Columbia, brought the beach to a landlocked state. The Mizzou Aquatic Center has an indoor and an outdoor beach club that will satisfy any student’s need for a beach day. In 2005, UM completed The Tiger Grotto, a $38.9 million project with a zero-depth pool with a high-powered vortex, a lazy river, a water fall, palm trees, rope bridges, lawn chairs, as well as pool-side waiters serving wraps, smoothies and protein shakes, which help complete the indoor beach club theme. Students often hit the beach club after long days in class, or after working out in one of the 5 exercise complexes on campus, representing hundreds of pieces of workout machinery. … UM also has a 50 meter swimming pool and a diving well for athletes who are less interested in tanning, and more interested in enhancing their athletic abilities. In any case, once the beach-need is satisfied, students can venture through the many parks and outdoor complexes located on campus.

– This private liberal arts college in High Point, North Carolina, which is perhaps the most extravagant college campus in the U.S., High Point University, recently spent $700 million renovating its campus. There is now an ice cream truck serving free ice cream, a movie theater with complementary snacks, and a fine dining restaurant where students can enjoy a three-course meal using their dining plan. There are nineteen dorms and townhouse complexes, and even the dormitories that are more traditional and basic—two students per room—include gyms, bistros, pool and air hockey tables, movie theaters, study halls, and swimming pools. … Perhaps the grandest of all the residence halls on HPU campus is Aldridge Village which has it’s own “mini campus.” It includes a swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts, study halls, a dining hall, and a rotating shuttle service. Wandering around campus, students will find fountains and pools, sculptures, and beautifully modern architecture. High Point Campus is a veritable wonderland.

***

There’s a lot more in that excellent article that you should definitely absorb. If you’re fascinated, as I was, about the luxurious college life many students lead theses days, check out this list of colleges with the most amenities.

Summing it up for now, perhaps the most telling of Jones’ comments is, “High Point Campus is a veritable wonderland.” Wonderland hits the nail on the head, at least for me, because I have to wonder just how much higher education is actually happening between those free movies and Klondike bars.

**********

Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.