I Spend; Therefore, I Am: Consumerism & Higher Education

It’s no secret that consumerism stands as one of the crucial pillars, or driving force rather, to our economy and culture. Accounting for more than two-thirds of our domestic demand here in the United States, it would be foolish to say that consumerism hasn’t already permeated our system of higher education (Woodson 110). Rising costs of tuition, marketing and advertisements, facility operations, branding contracts, and university associations are only a handful of the ways consumerism has filtered into the system. This creates a problem not only for low-income families wishing to attend college, but it also produces a new sense of exclusion for universities. This branding connects alumni to the incoming freshman class. Branding, in its entirety, is at the crux of consumerism in higher education.

Advertising and College

When searching for inspiration for my final project, the idea of dissecting advertising and marketing on IU’s campus was on my radar. I initially hadn’t realized how important of a role consumerism plays into higher education until I dove in—camera gear and all. After having filmed and interviewed a handful of students and advertisements on campus, I slowly began to realize how much of students’ daily lives consisted and revolved around the marketing and branding efforts that the university has built. From parties on campus to events put on by outside organizations, consumerism is found in them all. One student I interviewed served as the focal point of my video as he lives and breathes everything sports.

As a beat reporter for the IDS and an avid lover of athletics, it’s not unusual for Zain Pyarali to wake up watching sports, and go to bed watching sports. If he isn’t reporting on IU’s basketball team then he’s broadcasting for the baseball games or talking about sports on the student-run radio show WIUX. When I briefly spoke with him about the basis of my project and the topic of consumerism, I found it hard to explain exactly what consumerism is due to the fact that it’s such a broad and complex topic. However, at the same time it is so specific because it is seen in so many aspects of our lives. I wanted to have Zain be the main focus of my short video for this exact reason. Not only does his role as a student revolve around IU athletics, but his job does, as well. From following him around baseball games to Little 500 weekend parties, consumerism was evident in every aspect of students’ lives.

 

When I was first introduced to the idea of advertising and consumer culture, I solely thought consumerism was about buying goods and selling into this idea that you’re only a “consumer” if you spend vast amounts of money on things like clothing or food. I felt that by having him as the centerpiece for my story, my audience could gain a better understanding of how consumerism is seen in the levels of higher education and how that can shape our lives as students.

IU sophomore Zain Pyarali

More Than Just Food & Clothes

Other than the obvious advertising on community boards and flyers on campus, the most obvious, deep-rooted system of consumerism I found from the university resided right in my pocket in the form of a campus access card. This card is basically a students’ ticket to everything on campus. From getting access to university events to using it as a payment method for groceries and clothing, this card connects the university to businesses around town. By partnering with companies like Chipotle and Noodles and Company, IU has placed themselves outside of their sole purpose as a university dedicated to higher education. Promoting consumerism for the university is far more than selling t-shirts at the student center.

“Consumer spending is responsible for more than two-thirds of the domestic demand in the United States” (McCully, 2011).

Although the monster we know as consumerism has made its way into our educational system making it easier for students to purchase a daily drink at Starbucks, there is a far more insidious problem facing the students (and parents) of these universities that many don’t realize—the rising cost of tuition.

“Institutions of higher education play into the game of supply and demand, which requires them to stay abreast of what consumers want. Consumers in education are no different from the consumers who shop feverishly during Black Friday” (Woodson, 2013).

 

IU’s Annual Financial Report 2014–2015:

https://vpcfo.iu.edu/_assets/doc/fy2015.pdf

IU STATEMENT OF REVENUES, EXPENSES, AND CHANGES IN NET POSITION

 

As costs continue to skyrocket for tuition rates, low-income families are struggling to find the means to send their students to college. Consumerism has a very large impact on this cost. In addition to the tuition paid by students, all of the branding contracts, alumni donations and facility operations help to feed into the billions of dollars universities are profiting from. Although there are aspects of consumerism that come from both ends of the spectrum, I doubt that the divide will ever cease.

I wanted to title my video I Spend; Therefore, I Am because I felt that it spoke for my project in its entirety. All of the topics my class has discussed from the beginning of the semester up until now has analyzed the culture behind consumerism and how it reveals itself in the various facets of our daily lives. One of the great things about higher education is the fact that students can earn a degree and gain a wealth of knowledge about the world around them. Unfortunately, even our system of higher education couldn’t escape the reaches of consumerism. Although consumerism has, without a doubt, transformed our educational systems, there are many positives that come from branding and marketing. As a student and consumer, I feel that the greatest weapon one can have is knowledge. Being an informed and active consumer will allow you to be more aware and conscience of your purchases and thought process behind your decisions.

What Consumerism Has Taught Me

Having taken the Advertising and Consumer Culture course at Indiana University, I can honestly say that it has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the plethora of ways consumerism has affected our culture and vis-versa. One of the greatest things this course provided me was the discussions that took place. Getting feedback from fellow students helped to give a broader prospective of how consumerism effects different people. In today’s world, it is so easy to turn a blind eye to things that may not directly, or immediately affect you. Whether it is buying food from a local market or participating in collegiate athletic events, consumerism effects each and every one of us. Our economy’s GNP is literally dependent upon consumerism. As with anything in life, there are many drawbacks to consumerism that are highly due to overconsumption and a lack of moderation. However, I do not believe that consumerism should disappear entirely. Rather, as a society we must be more aware of how much emphasis we put on its weight of importance. Like I said before, I believe that mindfulness is the greatest way for our culture to best take advantage of the benefits of consumerism. The idea that “I spend, therefore I am” connects us all to the notion that we are consumers. Consumerism is not only a microcosm of society– it is a reflection of our culture.

 

 

References

FIUSM Staff. “College education negatively affected by consumerism.” PantherNOW. FIU
     Student Media , 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Woodson, Cornell F. (2013) ” The Effects of Consumerism on Access to Higher Education,”

The Vermont Connection: Vol. 34, Article 13.

Additional Sources

IU’s Annual Financial Report 2014–2015:

https://vpcfo.iu.edu/_assets/doc/fy2015.pdf

 

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Broadcast Journalism student at Indiana University who's obsessed with iced-coffee and clothes.

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