The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

FLAMES OF THE TORCH: Assessing STJ’s business model

Two months ago, St. John’s
opened the doors to its new $78 million
D’Angelo Center, a four-story
university center designed to enhance
student life and educational
resources on campus.

To some, this is a staple of prosperity
and growth for the University.

For others, like Nancy Folbre, an
economics professor at the University
of Massachusetts, Amherst, it is
a sign of a poor business model that
is trending in many of the nation’s
colleges and universities.

Folbre recently wrote an article
for the New York Times business blog,
“Economix,” that addressed the business
plans of most institutions of higher
education over the past decade. She
points out that, in recent years, enrollment
rates have rocketed far higher
than completion rates. Additionally, she
notes that many undergraduate students
are needing more time to finish their
degrees. For example, she provides the
disturbing statistic that less than 60 percent of first-time full-time undergraduate
students at four-year institutions
completed their degree on time in the
2000-01 academic year.

In other words, many universities
are focusing their funds and efforts
more on recruiting students than
they are on improving and maintaining
the quality of the service
they offer those students.

As Folbre puts it, “Enrolling in college
is a bit like joining a health club.
And as with a health club, the revenue
comes from signing people up, not from
encouraging them to use the services.”

It’s a harsh reality that picking
a good college is a difficult process
for students and parents. Unlike purchasing
a car, it’s impossible for students
to “try before they buy” when
it comes to picking a school. It’s easy
to be lured by a clever marketing team
who knows their niche audience.

According to Folbre, heavy marketing
and investment in recruiting is
what for-profi t universities, like the
University of Phoenix, have always
been about. These kinds of institutions
developed this business model
in order to make a large profi t, and
unfortunately it’s leaking into state
and private universities, like St. John’s.

But it’s when administrators imitate
this for-profi t model that problems
occur, especially in times of an
economic recession when students are
less able and willing to shell out the
big bucks for a degree.

“Administrators can feel pressure
to invest in new facilities that
look good on the glossy brochures –
like a new recreation center – rather
than improving student advising or
course availability,” says Folbre.

At St. John’s, evidence of this forprofit business model is widespread.

The new D’Angelo Center fl aunts a
picturesque golden torch and lush furniture.

The façade of the ornate building
was printed on the University’s
spring 2010 semester schedule, even
before it had opened its doors to students.

The residence village has been
another focus in recent years, as the
University continues to build dorms
for more out-of-state students, hearding
the masses as best they can.

Meanwhile on campus and amongst
the student population, student engagement
has suffered with low turnouts
at sporting and activity events. School
spirit is low. Many programs and funds
have been cut in recent months to tighten
the school budget, and VSO buyouts
have been offered to full time professors,
staff and administrators.

The state of St. John’s seems to fit
Folbre’s description of a university that
is focused more on enrollment than on
nurturing the students they have. For
university administrators, now may be
a good time to consider the state of a St.
John’s education, and the future of the
University’s business model.

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