The University of California system has $8.9 billion in construction going up at its 10 campuses and five medical centers, and the California State University system has $161 million. Since 2008, California has cut $2.65 billion in operating money from its public universities, which have responded by reducing enrollment, dramatically increasing tuition and laying off employees. At UC campuses, student fees rose 18 percent this year. Since the beginning of the fiscal crisis, 4,400 employees have been laid off and 3,570 positions have been eliminated in the UC system.
More than $384 million in projects are in process and another $515 million are in the planning and design stages at the University of Buffalo, part of the State University of New York, a system whose budget has been cut by $1.1 billion over the last three years. Virginia Tech has $696 million in construction newly finished, under way or ready to start, and the University of Nebraska has nearly $600 million.
While critics concede that some of the construction is justified—at jam-packed community colleges, for instance, where enrollments are rising—many new buildings are going up on campuses just because donors want their names immortalized, university presidents like to leave legacies of brick and mortar, and admissions directors are battling for applicants they’re convinced are lured by shiny new amenities.