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OUR VIEW: Tread carefully with student fees when building new college facilities

By The Daily Republic editorial board

We love the Jackrabbits, and we love their home football games.

There are few better experiences than sitting in the stands at Coughlin-Alumni stadium on a beautiful fall day while the Pride of the Dakotas band plays and the team takes the field.

But since South Dakota State University moved to Division I competition, its stadium has proven insufficient. It’s old and unattractive, and not big enough for the crowds SDSU is routinely drawing.

We therefore support a $60 million proposal to replace Coughlin-Alumni with a facility that’s more modern and larger — a proposed 18,000 seats, compared to the current (and we think exaggerated) 16,000 seats.

We’re leery, though, of comments by SDSU President David Chicoine indicating student fees might be part of the funding package. Students and parents are hurting already from runaway increases in the price of college, and we don’t think they should be leaned on heavily to fund a new stadium. In fact, we’d prefer the project gets built with bonds, legislative appropriations, private fundraising and anything else that can be cobbled together without a significant increase in student fees.

Too often, we feel, student fee increases are the easy way out for administrators engaged in an arms race with competing universities. Everybody wants bigger and better facilities, and with tight state government budgets everywhere, convincing students to approve higher fees has become a go-to funding source. Think of how foolish that is, though: We’re turning multi-million dollar decisions about publicly owned infrastructure over to a bunch of recent high school graduates, some of whom are already saddled with debt and could drop out or graduate before the proposed facilities are constructed.

“But the students approved it,” college administrators might answer. Well, of course they did. Dangle a new stadium or wellness center or other such facility in front of a college student, and what do you expect? Debt and taxes are still only vague ideas to them, and instant gratification is their norm.

Last year, we reported that tuition and fees at SDSU had increased by 126 percent in the previous 12 years. We repeat: 126 percent. That’s insanity, and it’s reflective of the situation at many other institutions.

If we’re not careful, someday we’ll have campuses full of shiny buildings and no students, because college will be too expensive for the masses.