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Miami students value consumption amenities

By LibMueller
On February 18, 2013

Research released in Jan. 2013 by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests students may not select colleges simply based on the quality of their academic programs.

The study, entitled "College as Country Club: Do Colleges Cater to Students' Preferences for Consumption?" indicated that students value college "consumption amenities," which include non-academic features, facilities and programs such as recreational centers, athletics, dorms and student services and activities. It concluded that high-income students are especially willing to pay for these extra perks while high-achieving students are more apt to pay for top academic programs and instruction.

Miami University spends more on consumption amenities than Ohio University, Wright State University and Kent State University. Consumption amenities are budgeted as auxiliaries.

Of the 2012-2013 Auxiliary Enterprises Revenues, Expenditures and Transfers Budget at Miami University, in which auxiliary expenditures total $115.9 million without transfers (which encompass mostly debt service and general fees) the largest expenditure on amenities is budgeted to be $55.6 million on residence and dining halls, which it reports as one expenditure.

The next largest expenditures are Shriver Center, $27.4 million, and intercollegiate athletics, $23.4 million.

In Ohio University's fiscal year 2013 budget, which shows $69.8 million in auxiliary expenditures without transfers, residence and dining services are the largest budgeted expenditures on amenities when combined, $41.3 million ($29.3 million on dining and $12 million on residence). Intercollegiate athletics is the next largest expenditure, $19.3 million, and then campus recreation, $3 million.

Wright State University's fiscal year 2013 budget, which shows a total of $27.6 million in auxiliary expenditures without transfers, also reports residence and food services as the largest budgeted expenditures on amenities, $9.7 million ($6.3 million on food and $3.4 million on residence), followed by intercollegiate athletics, $9.5 million, and then the Nutter Center, the university owned and operated sports and entertainment arena, $3.7 million.

In Kent State University's fiscal year 2013 budget book, which reports $97.5 million in auxiliary expenditures without transfers, residence and dining services are the greatest budgeted expenditure on amenities, $53.9 million ($23.2 million on dining and $30.8 million on residence), followed by intercollegiate athletics, $22.9 million, and then recreational services, $4.6 million.

Miami spends more on auxiliaries despite having lower enrollment than Kent State and Ohio University.

Kent State has over 27,000 undergraduates and graduate students enrolled on its main campus and Ohio University has over 21,000 undergrads and grad students enrolled on its main campus compared to Miami's 17,000 total students on the Oxford campus. Wright State enrolls over 16,000 total students on its main campus.

Miami Vice President of Finance and Business Services David Creamer said one of the reasons some schools might spend a larger percentage on athletics than Miami is because they have greater enrollment.

He also said the housing or residence expenditure might vary across campuses depending on how many students live on campus, but it is typical for housing and dining to be a university's greatest expenditure on amenities.

The budget for amenities at Miami is primarily driven by the historical costs of offering those amenities to students, but changes are implemented as students' needs change, according to Creamer.

"More often than not, many of the initiatives are student-driven," Creamer said. "They look at the environment and say there's something missing there and then say [they're] willing to increase [their] fees."

For instance, according to Creamer, students appealed to the university Board of Trustees for the building of the Recreational Center (REC) 20 years ago, and Associated Student Government (ASG) lobbied for the continuation of the Armstrong Student Center construction.

Creamer said the addition and improvement of amenities involves a trade-off with academic affordability and students make the decision regarding their fees whether new or better amenities are worth the cost.

However, despite the results of the study, the reasons someMiami students said they ultimately decided upon Miami University vary.

Senior math education major Gary Coogle said the strength of the education program was not the only thing that influenced his decision to come to Miami.

"At first, it was definitely academics but then once I came here and took a tour and saw the REC center and the dorm and everything, it re-certified my opinion," Coogle said.

Senior Reyna Smith and sophomore Shamara Guy said financial aid solidified their decisions to come to Miami.

"Honestly, financial aid [brought me to Miami]," Smith said. "The REC is nice though. The campus was really nice, somewhere you want to be."

"I would say the appearance of the college and the size and also financial aid [influenced my decision]," Guy said.

First-year Zoology major Hannah Babel said Miami's reputation for quality instructors, the opportunities for undergraduate research and the appearance of the campus were the biggest factors for her in choosing Miami.

According to Creamer, quality academic programs drive prospective students' interest in Miami, and amenities may factor into the final decision on Miami once they have narrowed down their prospective colleges to their top choices.  

"When they're comparing institutions, sometimes those amenities make a difference in the actual institution the student selects," Creamer said. "That's not what causes them to investigate Miami. That's more driven by quality academic programs...oncethe student starts to visit and they have two or three options, sometimes the differences in those amenities has an impact on the final decision the student makes."

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