The Growing Caste System in Higher Education: Campus Construction Edition

It is hardly surprising that as colleges and universities have struggled to maintain their finances in response to the deep reductions in state support and the sometimes volatile fluctuations in enrollment caused by the Great Recession, those institutions have allocated far fewer resources to maintaining their existing buildings and to the construction of new buildings.

According to a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch, “New construction at campuses across the country has been sliding for much of the past five years, according to market research by McGraw Hill Construction. This year, the total square footage of new campus projects is down 7 percent from last year, when the industry saw a slight uptick.”

In this context, the massive new construction projects at Ohio State University do not simply go against the norm; they stand in stark contrast to the norm.

The university is completing the biggest single building project in its history, a new cancer-treatment center at the Wexner Medical Center, which has cost just over $1 billion.

Also nearly completed is the new East Regional Chilled Water Plant, which, when it is fully connected to other buildings, is projected to save 30% of the cost to heat and cool them. Total cost: $66.8 million.

Over the next five years, the university will spend another $1.3 billion on other construction projects.

The largest of these projects will involve tearing down ten buildings at the north end of the campus and replacing them with eleven new buildings: eight dormitories, adding 3,200 beds to the student housing capacity, a dining hall, an event space, and a recreation center. The total cost: $370 million.

Elsewhere, a sixty-year old building is being replaced by the new Chemical Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry Building. The total cost: $125 million.

The sports-medicine department will be housed in a new building. Total cost: $35 million.

The OSU Veterinary Medical Center will be significantly expanded. Total cost: $30 million.

Pomerene Hall, which houses the Huntington Archive, Visual Resource Library, and the Department of the History of Art, and Oxley Hall, which houses the Office of International Affairs, will be renovated. Total cost: $59 million.

The university also plans to relocate Cannon Drive closer to the Olentangy River. Total cost: $38 million.

Students will directly and indirectly pay some of the cost of this construction. Housing fees have been increased 4.2% this year, and the budget for the Office of Student Life has been cut by $1.8 million.

The Columbus Dispatch seems to have Richard Vedder on retainer to provide ready expertise on all matters related to university finances. Here, he offers the following observations that illustrate how one might be very quotable without saying anything significant or insightful: “’Capital resources are not free. They aren’t given to us by God or someone; they cost money. You can defer most of the cost through borrowing, but the costs are there, and they are substantial.’”

The complete article written by Collin Binkley for the Columbus Dispatch is available at:




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