No Maintenance At All: Just Education

Ashley Thorne

On Tuesday, Peter Wood published an article on the NAS website entitled, “Deferred Maintenance.” The article shows how the bloating of higher education has inflated tuition, incentivized poor financial management, and led the university astray from its educational mission when it “became too deeply enamored with itself as a system that could and would encompass all of America’s social, economic, and political problems.”

Colleges and universities justify exorbitant spending on athletic programs and luxury student residences as necessary for competition with other colleges.  Hiring armies of new administrators like sustainability directors and chief diversity officers is part of that drive for legitimacy. But one campus has opted out of the rat race.

The Salem satellite of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) holds classes on the third floor of an office building; the campus extends no further than that. Tuition is a reasonable $10,000. Among the undergraduate courses offered Salem’s January/February term are “Intermediate Accounting,” “Intro to Cultural Anthropology,” “Public Speaking,” and “US History II: 1865 to Present.” The Boston Globe reports that this university is “at the forefront of a push by some colleges around the country to provide a no-frills, lower-cost education for students who don't mind forgoing traditional college life and its accompanying amenities, particularly during a recession, as long as they get a diploma.”

At its residential Manchester campus, SNHU provides all the college culture typically found at large state institutions—including the increasingly necessary rotating rock-climbing wall, Olympic-sized swimming pool, and campus pub.

SNHU President Paul LeBlanc says that all the amenities do enable the university to compete with others in the nation. But, he explains, “I'm not sure that improves education. It just drives the price up. Not everybody needs it, and frankly, not everybody can afford it."

Thank you, President LeBlanc. You’ve expressed our thoughts exactly. For those who can pay for it, the college “experience”—complete with meal plans, Greek life, intramural sports, a cappella groups, and forested trails through romantic stone buildings—is a lovely transition from adolescence to adulthood. Some families, however, cannot afford the summer camp approach. For them, a back-to-the-basics option looks pretty good. It’s like choosing economy instead of first class. You may not get to pick your flight movies and meals, but you save money and still get delivered to your destination.

And speaking of adulthood, it seems to me that students at the Salem campus of SNHU probably lead more adult-like lives than their residential college peers. Salem students go to classes in an office building and return home afterward. They don’t choose from a plethora of built-in extra-curricular activities and they don’t eat their meals on a tray. They don’t live in a self-contained world composed mostly of people their own age.

Also, the program offered at SNHU Salem appears congruous with the rise of distance education. Students getting an online degree are able to take a variety of classes—but not to do a variety of communal activities. Skiing with buddies on the fake snow campus ski slope is out. So is the student improv group. So is intramural beach volleyball. So is Intergroup Dialogue (a type of diversity workshop which uses face-to-face small group dynamics to manipulate public, emotional responses).

But isn’t the college experience worth having? Most high school students who visit residential campuses can see a 20-year old coed reading on a grassy knoll under the shade of an old oak tree on the quad, while a group of sophomore guys toss a Frisbee nearby. There is something positively idyllic and collegiate about scenes like this. 

Or perhaps what’s more important than picturesque landscaping is the academic community made up of students, faculty, and staff. At SNHU Salem, that community thrives. According to the Globe, the satellite offers “more personalized attention…intimate classes of fewer than 10 students, and built-in office hours with professors.” In exchange for closer collaboration with faculty, Salem escapes the myriad of ideological movements that characterizes residential colleges today. Among these are programs by “student affairs professionals” seeking to change students’ political beliefs; sustainability initiatives designed to incorporate a Progressive version of social justice into environmentalism; diversity education workshops; and tunnels of oppression. Unencumbered by the demands of these politically correct causes, just think how much less oppressed Salem students must be!

And so, either out of financial desperation or through a true understanding of the academy’s purpose, people are beginning to remember why we go to college in the first place. While the SNHU Salem campus may not recommend itself to brochure photos, it provides the only real college essential: an education.

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