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Fun on Friday: Kids These Days

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The University of Kentucky plans to blow up part of my youth.

Earlier this week, the UK Board of Trustees approved a plan to demolish the Kirwan Blanding dorm complex, including two 23-story residential towers. Apparently, kids aren’t willing to live two to a cell and share communal showers anymore. According to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, “those icons can no longer provide the housing spaces that students desire, so they are being demolished.”

They are icons. The towers are some 50 years old. They are campus landmarks. But like the students who lived there in ages gone by, they are old.

I went to UK. I never lived in the dorms, but I spent a lot of time there. It makes me sad that future generations will no longer experience the joys of cramming 10 people into a space no bigger than a cracker box, will never know the pleasure of pennying your buddy’s door shut, will never know dorm life as it was.

Kids these days want to live in luxury.

“Ninety-three percent of our freshman have never shared a room, so the demand just isn’t there,” UK’s housing project implementation director Penny Cox told the Herald. “There are very few students who want to live in those kinds of buildings (at Kirwan Blanding).”

And what the kids want, by-God the kids get.

Over the last several years, the university has built a number of new dorm complexes. They feature 7,000 private bedrooms. Because, you know, little Suzie and Bobby need their privacy. They might not be able to study with a pesky roommate lurking about. These dorms come complete with features like Tempur Sealy mattresses. When I was in college, we slept on lumps of foam. And we liked it that way.

Oh, and let’s not forget the granite countertops. I’m not kidding. There is a dorm complex at the University of Kentucky with granite countertops. I’m 50 years old. I don’t even have granite countertops!

UK students have the option of living in a four-bedroom suite – that’s four separate, furnished bedrooms complete with two full baths and a shared kitchenette and living area. There is also an option for a two-bedroom suite – again with separate bedrooms. If you want to rough it, you can live in a shared bedroom suite. Even that has individual sinks and closets for each resident.

Closets.

Our dorm rooms were closets. You could almost reach across and touch both walls. And we liked it that way!

But the old-school dorms are a thing of the past. Once they do asbestos abatement, they’re going to tear them down. Yes. Our dorms had asbestos. And we liked that too!

Now, it will probably come as no surprise, but all of this luxury living costs money. A lot of money. According to the Herald-Leader article, new dorm construction at UK cost $1 billion.

Billion.

With a B.

Who pays for all that?

I do!

Well, I paid for at least $11,000 of it.

My daughter is a UK student. She lived in one of the cheap dorms her freshman year. She had a – gasp – roommate. It still cost me $11,000. For one year. That’s more than my total mortgage payments for a year. But hey, she had a really nice mattress.

What really makes all of this possible is student loans. Universities have to compete for those dollars – erm, I mean students. So, most schools have gotten sucked into this crazy quest to provide better and better amenities. Eventually, you end up with college students eating off granite counter tops.

This is the dirty little secret. The more money the government throws at universities, the more creative they get at spending it. Tuition has skyrocketed over the last couple of decades. This is basic economics. Student loans increase the demand for the college experience. Prices rise.

Millions of Americans are saddled with student loan debt.  Data released last year revealed that 46% of student loans are not currently being repaid. But hey, the kids got to watch Netflix in private while they earned those Women’s Studies degrees.

Unfortunately, they can’t get a job.

Back to the main point – a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2015 found that a large percentage of the increase in college tuition can be explained by increases in the amount of available financial aid. And as schools have tried to entice kids to spend those student loan dollars at their institutions, we’ve ended up with $1 billion dorm complexes, fitness facilities fit for pro athletes, and state of the art student centers.

Anyway, I’m sad to see the Kirwan and Blanding Towers go because of nostalgia. And because living in a closet with another person builds character. Kids these days. They’ll never get it.

Now, get off my lawn!

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature. We dig up some of the off-the-wall and off-beat stories relating to precious metals and the economy, and share them with you – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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