Colleges' Debt Falls on Students After Construction Binges

Ann McClure's picture
Monday, December 17, 2012

Some call it the Edifice Complex. Others have named it the Law of More, or the Taj Mahal syndrome.

A decade-long spending binge to build academic buildings, dormitories and recreational facilities — some of them inordinately lavish to attract students — has left colleges and universities saddled with large amounts of debt. Oftentimes, students are stuck picking up the bill.

Overall debt levels more than doubled from 2000 to 2011 at the more than 500 institutions rated by Moody’s, according to inflation-adjusted data compiled for The New York Times by the credit rating agency. In the same time, the amount of cash, pledged gifts and investments that colleges maintain declined more than 40 percent relative to the amount they owe.

With revenue pinched at institutions big and small, financial experts and college officials are sounding alarms about the consequences of the spending and borrowing. Last month, Harvard University officials warned of “rapid, disorienting change” at colleges and universities.

Read more »