Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Debt: Something students should care about

UMKC may be the only NCAA Division I school where students care more about parking than athletics.

For once in my life, I am surrounded by others who share my apathy for sports.

UMKC’s problem isn’t the dearth of sports fans; it’s that many students attend the school solely to obtain a degree, not for the college experience one would expect from a four-year university with 16,000 students.

UMKC is trying desperately to lose its commuter school reputation, and it’s easy to understand why.

Popular teams help market big-name regional schools like the University of Kansas and University of Missouri.

Passionate students enrich the college experience and ensure a school’s longevity through lifelong patronage. Loyal graduates attend games, donate money and inevitably help the school advertise itself by wearing T-shirts and hoodies.

Moving from the Summit League to the Western Athletic Conference won’t be a game-changer for UMKC. Our athletics programs will never enjoy the same level of patronage as KU or Mizzou.

UMKC appeals to students as an affordable urban liberal arts college with strong arts, business and medical programs.

It is difficult to constrain costs while preserving a school’s academic reputation and undertaking massive construction projects.

The Student Union, Atterbury Student Success Center and renovated Miller-Nichols Library are inviting spaces that help create synergy on campus.

The proposed student housing development at 24th and Troost Avenue could give the Hospital Hill campus a shot in the arm.

Each of these projects is—or will be—built using debt financing, meaning student tuition and fees will inevitably increase.

There are two projects that are notable exceptions:

• The Downtown Campus for the Arts will also help establish UMKC’s reputation as more than a commuter college. The initial phase of the arts campus has an estimated $90 million price tag. If built, it would be paid for through a combination of private donations and matching state funds.

• The entire cost of the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall is covered by a $32 million donation from Bloch himself, the largest single donation in UMKC history.

It is laudable that UMKC has taken measures to insulate its students from the impact of state funding cuts. Enrollment growth will make it easier to pay off massive capital projects, as the cost is spread to a greater number of students.

New facilities are necessary additions, but many college and universities have turned to construction projects as a panacea. After all, shiny new buildings are great for campus tours, right?

The New York Times found that since 2000, the amount public college and universities pay in interest and principal has increased 67 percent. Private institutions saw a 62 percent increase.

Meanwhile, many states have cut funding for colleges and universities, leaving students to pick up the tab.

Many students don’t think about how much debt they have accumulated until they prepare to graduate, and student debt has skyrocketed over the past decade.

At UMKC, graduating seniors average $28,000 in debt. That’s about the price of a new car, but it is only a tiny chunk of the more than $1 trillion in aggregate student debt in the U.S.

At the end of the day, affordability is what drives UMKC’s enrollment. Students want a quality education at an affordable price.

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