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The Cost of Progress

We've talked a lot about the changes FAU (and Boca Raton) could make by building new structures - academic, sports, housing, parking. It's so easy to see what other universities are doing and ask, "Why don't we have that? We should be building one of those."

The answer is obvious: it's expensive. Let's go category by category to explain just how crazy expensive it is to keep up with the expectations of the students, the alumni and the community... to say nothing about getting ahead of everyone else.

(NOTE: All numbers are ballpark estimates)


As the Sun Sentinel recently pointed out, FAU is trying to figure out a way to improve its 4-year graduation rate (currently at 40%) to match the national standard (58%). We're falling behind for a lot of reasons. one reason is that we've encouraged part-time enrollment, building a reputation as a place that you can attend at your convenience. But think about it: when you have students taking 3-6 credits a semester, how long do you think it will take them to achieve the required 120 credits for a bachelor's degree? A while, right?

The best way to understand the gravity of the problem is to look at the actual numbers: in 2012, FAU had 17,579 full-time students and 12,722 part-time students.That means for an overall enrollment of 30,301 students, nearly 42% of them were part-time.


But the second reason why people aren't graduating in 4 years? Not enough classes available for all the students. And when we talk about not enough classes, we're not talking about professors who "just don't feel like teaching more classes"; remember that being a professor means teaching multiple classes, advising graduate students, doing research and often sitting on committees as well. They have a lot on their plate.

No, the bottleneck is often that we don't have enough space to even hold classes. Some of you may have experienced this at FAU: looking at your upcoming class schedule and wondering why you were taking something like College Algebra in... the Oxley? Or Reason and Value in... the Alumni Center?

We just didn't have the space.

On the low end you can expand by adding something like General Classroom North (GN), though from my understanding FAU declared a moratorium on new buildings under four stories tall. So what they really want is something like the Culture and Society building, which cost them $25.6 million, or the new Engineering Building, $46.4 million. Therefore, depending on the size of the building and what's in (lecture space vs lecture space plus labs) and the going rate of construction during that particular timeframe,

The cost of a new academic building: $20-60M.

Hence why FAU is so keenly interested in online classes: more classes and more students while the IT infrastructure needed is much less than constructing a physical space for the class.

Yet it's important to have physical space to foster the student experience. According to the Boca Raton campus Master Plan, FAU would like to add at least two more general academic buildings (blue, #43 and 45; one north of the new Engineering building and one north of the Education building) and (I believe) expand the old Engineering building (#32) to turn that into general education space. Makes sense, though I think the Engineering renovation may need to wait until they can move everybody that's left there into New Engineering Building Phase II, rumored to be on the southwest side of the new building (it would be part of a complex). Unfortunately the rendering seems to have slipped away from me on the web at the moment...


FAU's Athletic Director, Pat Chun, said that their #1 facility priority is not a new baseball stadium but instead a new academic center for all athletes. So, how much would something like that cost?

Well, the University of Michigan paid $12M for the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center in 2006. According to this article, LSU spent $15M and Georgia spent $7M. Other articles claim similar numbers. So depending on how big and fancy we want to get:

The cost of  a new academic center: $5-20M

This quote from the above article was particularly telling: "It?s getting competitive ? that?s one of the reasons why we have this center,? said Becky Galvin, an academic counselor and tutorial coordinator at Georgia. ?The coaches started hearing from kids that so-and-so had a nicer academic center. We had a good academic program, but we didn?t have all the bells and whistles.?

It's not just feel of the coaches, or liking the area, TV time, the stadium, the fanbase, the weight room... it's also about where these kids are going to get help with their homework that's influencing where they sign to play D-1 sports. And that's a good thing, don't get me wrong, but that's just one more thing that we now have to spend millions of dollars on to keep up with everyone else. For the record, FAU does have the Student-Athlete Center for Academic Excellence, also known as Room 261 in the Oxley Center.

Room, not building. Room. See why Chun thinks that should be #1? After all, if we don't do well in the classroom, our APR takes a hit, scholarships get revoked, and FAU sports can go to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly.


Prices for new dorms are all over the place depending on how traditional you want to go with it and what the competition is like for off-campus apartments. Whereas students used to be housed in plain, barracks-style buildings (think old school Algonquin), that trend has basically evaporated and made way for newer, lavish, apartment-style dorms with not only fancy things like "kitchens" but also sports bars, lazy rivers and even Swedish saunas. (no, seriously)

So that's what we're up against nationally. But what about locally? Well, FAU has some competition for off-campus apartments but not until Addison Park have they really felt the pressure to up their game. I'd like to say we're in a "dorm-building frenzy" but maybe that's just wishful thinking. However, in the last few years we will have added almost 2,000 students to campus. That's quite a bit. And bringing them here wasn't cheap, though one FAU source told me that building them is "not a problem because they pay for themselves" (assuming 95+% occupancy, of course).

And how much to pay for themselves? The new dorm, Parliament Hall, cost $41,678,000 and is being paid back at IIRC approximately $3M a year. The cost of Innovation Village Apartments was a little more substantial because it was two buildings: $99,056,915. However, there's a deal with Crocker Partners and I think they might have both fronted the construction cost and collect the rent checks, so if that's true, then Parliament Hall is FAU's first true new dorm they can claim ownership on since Glades Park Towers. In any case:

Cost of a new dorm: $30-100M


As we've discussed before, the #1 complaint among students is parking. Students believe that "if they're paying all this money" that they should be entitled to "find a good parking spot" meaning "a spot right next to the building where my class is located." So they park in the grass - despite signs clearly saying not to - or they park somewhere else they know they can't park, then they get tickets and go on Twitter to complain about how "FAU sucks!!!!" and they're "so tired of this b.s.!!!" They figure it wouldn't be such a problem if we could just build a new parking garage.

Cost of a new parking garage: $13,350,000

Or, at least, that's what Parking Garage 3 is costing us. Maybe PG 4 would be even more. Who knows?

Wouldn't it be great to build 3 or 4 of these and knock out the parking problem? Sure but FAU very carefully calculates how much debt they can pay back on based upon parking decal fees and, yep, even revenue derived from parking tickets. So these things come slowly but surely but when they do, when FAU announces a new parking garage, students on Twitter and Facebook send prayers of thanks off to their favorite deities.  

Fortunately FAU doesn't have to depend on alumni donations to make these things possible. A large part of it comes from the State Legislature, although even they have a budget to meet and may not always sign off on a new building, no matter how worthy the cause may seem to us. The money has dried up a little bit in the past few years but it sounds like things are slowly turning around. FAU will always have some money to throw up new buildings... it's just a matter of how much that determines how fast.



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