(from The Atlantic):

By Jeffrey Selingo

When I was a college freshman in the early 1990s, I lived in a dorm that was as sterile as a hospital room, a 193-square-foot box with white cinderblock walls that I shared with two other guys. The bathroom was also shared—with an entire floor.

Such basic living quarters greeted generations of college students before me. For much of the history of American higher education, dorms and other student amenities—from dining halls to recreational centers—were an afterthought to the primary business of campus planning: grand academic buildings. In fact, in the 1840s, the president of Brown University described dorm life as “unnatural” and blamed student housing for most of the evils of college life. Brown and Columbia University even attempted to eliminate dorms from their campuses. While that move ultimately proved unsuccessful, student housing and other facilities that supported student life on most campuses remained a fairly spartan experience up until the 1990s.

By the turn of this century, colleges had an increasing appetite for campus luxuries. A surge of students from the millennial generation were graduating from high schools nationwide, and many colleges found the simplest way to compete for attention in a crowded market was to build fancier facilities. Construction cranes became ubiquitous on campuses, and often the most high-profile projects involved student amenities—rock-climbing walls in recreation centers, swanky student unions with first-rate food services, and luxury “residence halls” with private bathrooms—usually financed by borrowing. Between 2001 and 2012, the amount of debt taken on by colleges rose 88 percent, to $307 billion. CONTINUE READING HERE