Russ Roberts asks a good question.
I always say, just observe what's around you. That may not always prove accurate, but that depends on where and what you are observing. For example, you can't look at living standards or behaviors in the DC area and conclude that things must be pretty good around the country - DC is not average America. But I teach at a college where the students come predominantly from typical middle class families, many from even lower-middle class families. Most have cell phones, laptops, a car on campus (with the insurance needed to operate that car in NC), a large flat-screen tv in their dorm room (nobody that I knew of had a television in their dorm room when I was in college), microwaves, air conditioning, etc.
Given that about 70% of high school graduates in the U.S. now go on to college, and that colleges seem to be catering to the median student in ways never seen before, can we safely conclude that living standards in the U.S. are rising, not stagnating?
A lot of the campus residence halls in the U.S. were built in the mid-20th century when it was common for kids to share bedrooms and bathrooms at home. Today, students arrive at college not used to sharing a room or the communal experience of the older dorms, Newman said. Students are also bringing more gadgets, including refrigerators, microwaves, flat-screen TVs and computers.
"Just the stuff that people bring with them, the type of housing has to change ... we are changing the types of amenities we're offering to remain current and relevant to the student of today and of the future," she said.
The challenge is making sure the buildings last the next 100 years since universities can't afford to renovate them year after year, she added.
On the other side of the University of Michigan campus, a privately owned 10-story apartment complex called Zaragon Place has a wait list full of students hoping to live in the building that opened in 2009. The fully furnished apartments -- complete with black leather couches, 42-inch flat-screen TVs, granite kitchen countertops, washing machines and dryers -- cost about $1,189 a month. (North Quad costs about $1,412 a month for a two-room suite with a private bathroom). Students have access to a 24/7 gym, underground parking and a convenience store next to the building.
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"Kids today want more privacy, they want better amenities, and in a lot of cases, they don't want to have three or four roommates," he added.
He says North Quad is an "exception" in terms of quality, but even then, the dorm isn't on the same level as Zaragon housing.
"We're offering an entirely different product based on the quality, closeness, the adult nature of it and its sophistication," he said. "We believe that's what kids want, and that's how they want to live."
Is it a wonder why students today have such an entitlement attitude about their grades and classes?