College & Disneyland

For the last three days, I’ve been attending the 100th anniversary of the journalism school at the University of Missouri. My alma mater.

The most amazing thing that I saw while I was on campus for the first time in 28 years didn’t occur at the journalism school though it was bustling with J School graduates. Attendees during the celebration included journalists and editors from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and countless other newspapers, as well as a founder of ESPN, mucky mucks from CNN, CBS, Entertainment Tonight and about 2,000 other journalists.

What blew me away was visiting the University of Missouri’s rec center with my two friends and classmates from the Des Moines Register and Sacramento Bee. We could have been walking amongst Martian rubble it felt so alien.The rec center is a totally inadequate term to convey what awaits anyone who wants to exercise (or not) will experience in this place. You know this isn’t your typical gym when you are handed an 80-page glossy magazine that describes what you’ll find in the facility’s “distinct leisure neighborhoods.”

I lost track of all the pools, but one of them was decorated with profusions of tropical flowers and tall palm trees – maybe the only ones in Missouri. Towering above the outdoor pool was a TV as big as a couple of dorm rooms. The sun averse can retreat to the center’s spa and salon. I didn’t go in there but I saw a photo that showed coeds relaxing in wicker furniture in a wood paneled room. If you’re stressed out, this is where the masseuses are on call.

The “jungle gym” contains 23 flat-panel TVs and that doesn’t include the TVs attached to treadmills and stairmasters, not to mention the gaming systems that you can play while sweating. You can find a personal trainer, receive nutritional advice or a fitness assessment here and buy a smoothie at the juice bar. A section of the center was designed to look like a city block of downtown Columbia and a short walk away are the beach volleyball courts.

This place is the closest thing to a recreational Disneyland that I’ve ever seen. So why do I mention this?

It ties in to what I was writing about in the last blog: colleges and universities are building bigger and better campuses to attract the newest crop of freshmen. One of my old journalism professors, who doesn’t look like he has ever used the new rec center, says the new facility has indeed become a phenomenal recruitment tool.

I’m sure Mizzou’s competitors are already scheming to create something that will make this $50 million toy look like a Happy Meal throwaway.

So what’s wrong with this? First I want to acknowledge that I’m completely jealous. But the real problem revolves around who is underwriting this construction arms race. It’s the parents and students who are paying for it. Any many of them will be paying their tab for many, many years—with interest.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.

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