16 February 2014

UNH needs a $25M stadium like I need a hole in my head

I was disappointed to read the following news release from my alma mater:

January 31, 2014
UNH Outlines Plan for New Athletic Complex as Part of Campus Master Plan
DURHAM, N.H. – With a focus on meeting its strategic priorities, the University of New Hampshire is moving forward with fundraising and planning for a new athletic complex that will benefit the university, Durham and the Seacoast region, and the state. Athletic facilities and venues, including a new stadium, were identified as a priority in the campus’ master plan to improve recruitment, student satisfaction, and overall visibility in an increasingly competitive marketplace.  
Expected to cost $25 million and open in late 2015, the facility, which is referred to as the West Stadium, will offer increased and improved seating, state-of-the art broadcast and WiFi capability, concessions, restrooms, and a special student section. The original concrete section of the current East Side facility dates to the 1930s.
 The project will only move forward when the university raises $5 million in donations and the final project cost is no more than $25 million. The university plans to seek internal borrowing for the additional $20 million. The cost of this project will be absorbed within the university’s current five-year financial planning model.

I travel through the UNH campus often enough, and when I do, I feel more and more like a stranger in a strange land.

I love the new (but not very new anymore) library on campus.  Same thing about the new engineering buildings.  I understand that one of the main liberal arts buildings is going to be replaced soon too -- cool!  I spent a lot of time in all of these buildings during my studies.

But there has been a lot of other new construction on campus too...stuff that I've never understood.  Like for example, I see a lot of high-end housing.  Suites for students to live in -- much nicer than my first apartment that I rented when I got my first job after college.  The new ice arena is nice, but I voted against it as a student a long time ago.  I've been told that there are classrooms in the new business school that have over-the-top multimedia stuff in them, complete with many LCD screens and a microphone system that automatically tracks who is speaking in the audience (yeah, I'll bet that students learn in this classroom 100x better than I did back in a more austere classroom...).  And now....this new $25 million stadium.

Here is why I am not wild about things like a new stadium:  this doesn't fit into my idea of what a state school should be.  I think that state schools should exist to give students a good education for a reasonable price.  I believe that frills at state schools should be kept to a minimum.

The new (but not very new anymore) library at UNH is great.  I've always looked at the study areas attached to the library, complete with their decent lighting and thought to myself "I would have killed to have such a nice area to study in when I was a student".  Putting money into stuff like this is a reasonable use of money.

But....things like high-end housing options and a brand-new stadium?  In my opinion, these things are not necessary for UNH.  Sure, UNH should have an athletic department, but its scope should be more limited.  This idea to put up a new stadium for a $25 million dollar price-tag is ludicrous for an institution like UNH.  If some student/family/consumer wants all of these things, then, in my opinion they should look to one of the many private schools that offer all of this stuff.

Why do I think this way?  Well, I'll tell you why:  when I was a high-school senior, I had a simple choice to make:  attend UNH or a higher-priced, more "prestigious" university.  And, one thing that weighed heavily on my mind was the complete understanding that whatever choice I made, I could not expect my dear parents or relatives to pay for my choice -- that just wasn't in the cards.  I was able-bodied and I knew how to work (thanks Mom and Dad!) and how to make money -- I knew that the entire cost of my higher-education would be mine to take care of.  So...I considered my options....and I chose UNH.  I worked my tail off to pay for my education and I am happy with the choices that I made.

But...here's the thing....every time I travel through UNH's campus lately, I am struck with the realization that, all things being equal, if I was a high-school senior today, I probably wouldn't be able to afford attending UNH.  And...I think that this is a real shame.

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