The Collegiate Arms Race

A common critique of higher ed over the years has been the tendency of institutions to seek to endlessly outdo one another on all fronts, especially when it comes to facilities. It’s a sort of hyper status anxiety impulse driving outsized institutional planning.

And as a result, major schools carry millions — sometimes billions — in debt burdens from construction and projects binges, then hike up tuition, and blame the state or feds whenever possible for keeping a lid on appropriations and aid.

It’s all very creative. The latest example comes from Penn State:

Beaver Stadium has room for improvement from the amenity standpoint and changes are on the way, a Penn State athletic official said. 

“There are plans to make Beaver Stadium the largest collegiate venue to be wireless accessible,” said Greg Myford, associate athletic director for communications. Fans will be able to download apps about football, view replays and access trivia. …

For the first time in several years, the Nittany Lion Club late last year surveyed more than 21,000 members to obtain feedback about the athletic department and about 9,500 or 45 percent provided responded, Myford said.

A primary area that needs work, based on the responses, is communications, Myford said.

Fans say they want better communications, and the response is to . . . install WiFi? They’re taking that advice a bit literally. Notice, critically, the grand arms-race-style phrasing used to couch the news. It’s wireless Internet at “the largest collegiate venue”!

And wait: If I have a phone that can download apps — like the kind they’re installing the WiFi for — wouldn’t I already have Internet through my carrier?

This is the arms race in a nut shell: long on plans, short on purpose.

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