Colleges Must Offer Formation, Not Amenities

Colleges donors are starting public fights with college administrators. At Deseret, I argue that’s a good thing. Colleges should be contested spaces—they need to offer values-informed formation, not a generic education.

It will be tempting for schools to keep spending on extraneous amenities to capture students, especially if they see them primarily as customers, not learners. Adding a lazy river or a climbing wall adds to the college experience without clarifying or serving the college’s mission. When the enrollment cliff comes, schools that compete on the basis of amenities will be stuck in a Red Queen race — where schools keep spending and spending, just to stay in the same place. That may lead schools feeling more beholden to donors, as they compete on what they can buy for their students. But the schools that make it through the crunch will be those with a stronger claim about what they offer.  

The schools that survive the enrollment collapse won’t be the ones with the most tricked-out theme parks, nor will they be academically excellent in a generic way. The surviving schools will have made a strong choice about their school’s identity and aims and will be prepared to cultivate or turn away donors accordingly. 

Read the rest at Deseret