Thoughts, Dreams and Coffee Rings

Returning the Investment

Imagine that you and I were to tour Jacksonville University. Starting at the Phillips Fine Arts Building toward the southern end of campus, we walk north all the way to the Davis College of Business.

We could go into any building from one end to the other and inside see devoted, qualified educators from any range of disciplines bringing concepts to clarity within their classroom walls.

We would see more than 4,000 students investing in themselves, spending time, effort and money, to transform their individual talents, interests, dreams and aspirations into the reality of a better future.

But at the same time, we would see something else.

As we made our way across campus, looking into the various colleges, divisions and programs, we would also see a staggering disproportion of investment by the university.

For the College of Health Sciences and the Davis College of Business at the north end of campus, the learning environment is characterized by new construction, filled with upgraded student facilities and technology. At the south end, where many of the fine arts, arts and sciences, and humanities reside, the picture is different.

I would argue from my first-hand experiences and observations as a student and reporter on this campus, that many of these programs are lacking the support from the university that the students deserve.

Despite being given insufficient resources by the university, it’s the phenomenal faculty in these underfunded programs that have made this institution work.

When visual arts professors have to reach into their own pockets to buy materials, philosophy books are scarce in the library, and when at the start of the year, The Navigator staff had to use more than $1,000 of student generated funds just to upgrade our computer software so that we could bring you this paper, there is a problem.

It often seems that the university is focused not on the value of its education as a whole, but on the disciplines within that education that draw investors.

I understand that at its foundation, a university is a business, and as a business it needs competitive, flagship programs to stay in operation.

I’m also not denying the worthiness of the business or health science programs for the university’s recent investments in them.

What I am saying is that all students, regardless of major, deserve to be invested in by the university as much as they invest in it.

In Fall 2013, Jacksonville University was ranked fifth in the state among colleges with the “best lifetime return on investment.”

But what does this statistic really mean? Who is investing, and how is achieving the ROI?

Let’s first look at the question in terms of money.

With the exception of aviation, JU charges a standard tuition for all undergraduate disciplines.

This means that, with a single tuition rate across all majors, students pursuing a less expensive education are subsidizing those with the more expensive.

For example, all questions of financial aid aside, a philosophy major at this school whose education requires little more than books and classrooms, is charged the same as a nursing major, who requires up-to-the-minute technology, such as simulation labs, to learn and prepare for success in his or her field.

But after graduation, which students are more likely to achieve the salaries that drive up the monetary “return” on this statistic, those with the $120,000 degrees in a STEM field, or those with $120,000 arts or humanities degrees.

But rather than get stuck on the numbers, let’s consider a different, more important type of ROI, the quality of the experiences and education students receive within the university.

Frankly, as they are treated by the administration now, some programs at this school are not worth student investment.

Students are investing in the education that happens before their degrees are awarded. They are investing in the opportunity to learn and ample resources to do so.

For example, I want to be able to do adequate research for a philosophy paper in my own university library and save myself a trip across town to UNF’s.

It is JU’s responsibility as a university to put a greater effort into fostering environments for student success in all disciplines; this means adequate classroom materials, healthy upgraded facilities with space proportionate to each program’s needs, and a willingness to listen to its students.

Any program that the university advertises should have the investment to back it up, and no student should be made to feel like an afterthought.