Dangers of the All-Inclusive University

In 2012, the average debt level for a graduating senior with student loans in the U.S.A. reached $29,400. While there are certainly cases of students ...

Feb 7, 2015

In 2012, the average debt level for a graduating senior with student loans in the U.S.A. reached $29,400. While there are certainly cases of students earning enough money after graduation to pay back these loans in a couple of years, most take much longer, sometimes more than a decade, to do so. Because loans accumulate interest, having a large student debt inevitably restricts the number of life choices one can make after graduation. Students often feel trapped in unfulfilling yet high paying jobs, because they see no alternative. If they take time off or pursue a career path with less financial rewards, they figure their debt burden will only get larger and more restrictive.
Nevertheless, in 2012 65.9% of high school graduates in the U.S.A. had chosen to go to college, with 94% of them taking out loans to do so. When loans can so easily trap one into many years of restricted freedom, why do students still make this choice? In this personal essay, I will explore the reasoning behind why I chose to go to NYU Abu Dhabi to demonstrate that as colleges incorporate more and more extracurricular opportunities into their programs, they make students more dependent on them. This, in turn, makes the decision to opt out of college an incredibly difficult one, allowing universities to exploit this through unnaturally high tuitions.
The story of how I chose to go to NYUAD begins in high school. I went to a high school that had many extracurricular activities on offer, and I took advantage of this in order to make a lot of friends. I played on the football team, played tennis, performed in plays, went on school camping trips, spoke for the debate team and participated in student government. By the end of my time at high school, almost every aspect of my life was somehow connected to my high school. All my friends were there, and the pursuit of all my interests required my continued participation in school.
When graduation came around, I was challenged by the prospect of not only not seeing my friends every day, but also not having the opportunity to pursue interests that had once been so attached to my high school. I mean, who joins a debate team if it’s not affiliated with an educational institution?
NYUAD offered the opportunity to continue all the things I loved about high school, in university. Indeed, I could join a myriad of cocurricular clubs, I would have an easily accessible community of friends and I’d even be able to travel. When I compared the extracurricular programs of my local universities in Australia with those at NYUAD, the choice was easy. At most universities in Australia, students don’t live on campus, and there is nowhere near the same level of campus culture. It was also an added bonus that NYUAD actually cared about my extracurricular activities whereas most Australian universities only cared about grades.
Living on campus at NYUAD has been an incredible experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. Nevertheless, there is a problem in my mind with universities providing too much beyond the classroom. Universities in the U.S.A., especially those that are more expensive, often require their students to live on campus for the first year and sometimes require them also to have a meal plan. This is the first step in making students dependent on going to college. This is because it becomes nearly impossible to have friends outside this bubble. When eating is inherently a social activity, how can you make friends outside of university if you are constantly eating in the dining hall?
This dependence becomes greater when students go to universities outside their home town and when universities provide social activities, interest clubs, sports and exercise facilities, travelling, washing services, health services and security services. The dependence makes it so that a young adult’s life is completely dependent on one institution not only for education, but also everything else required for human happiness.
When students are deciding what college to go to, or whether to go to college at all, I argue that they consider campus culture much more than they might be willing to admit. If they have gone to a high school that had a monopoly on their needs, they are more likely to want to go to a college that will offer them the same. They are also much less likely to decide not to go to college, especially when all their friends are going as well. Prospective students are willing to pay exorbitant costs to defer their needs to an institution.
The only thing that seems to be able to get students to not go to college are companies that offer the same kind of all-inclusive package — places like Google or Facebook. The offices in these companies are famously designed to be just like campuses and offer their employees free food amongst other perks. At least in these situations, the dependence does not result in increasing debt.
I think that study abroad, as long as it allows you to break away from the institutional system and programs like co-ops, are fantastic ways to reduce the level of dependence students have on the system and train them to satisfy their needs outside of university. Then again, perhaps it is up to universities to focus less on providing everything. What if they focused their resources into higher quality teaching instead? Isn't that what they are there for?
Dan Brown is a columnist. Email him at 
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