Snookinomics: The Real Cost to Rutgers

Last Updated Apr 11, 2011 10:58 AM EDT

Paying Snooki (née Nicole Polizzi) to attend your Las Vegas nightclub, have her throw back a few shots and dance on tabletops for a couple hours, reportedly creates a fantastic return on investment. According to The New York Times, the Jersey Shore cast member's fee for such an event is about $25,000, but the attention and publicity she commands helps pull in an additional $259,000 in revenue. The Snooki rate of return: 936%.

But what if you're not a nightclub, but rather Rutgers University? A student-run organization at the New Jersey public school recently paid Snooki $32,000 to have her attend a two-session Q&A with students to discuss tanning and partying. "When you're tan, you feel better about yourself" and "Study hard, but party harder," she told the audience. In the Times piece, university officials were quoted as saying celebrity appearances have "boosted the university's brand, as well as student morale."

Here's the problem (well, one of the problems): Undergraduate students actually wound up paying the booking fee; the money was taken out of their annual required fees, a part of tuition.

"Rutgers Parents Outraged," says Fox News. "Mandatory fees shouldn't be spent on an event so obviously devoid of cultural or intellectual value," writes the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We've got a 'situation' on our hands," cries the Global Grind. Even New Jersey state senator Joe Kyrillos now wants to back a bill that would allow students to opt out of paying for any event that public universities pay for with required fees, claiming some students opposed the Snooki event.

Now if you consider any publicity good publicity, Rutgers may be able to somehow justify the event. In defense, one student organizer said Snooki "fits the mold" of the student body.

But let's not forget: This comes less than a year after Rutgers raised tuition and fees last fall due to state budget cuts. It's also just months after research concluded college students are learning squat, that close to half of students show no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

So this is how you choose to "invest" your money? I am sure that the campus organization that booked her just wanted to give students a fun break. But what they actually did was fleece students out of their money (and debt, since many are carrying student loans) to do it.

Next time, Rutgers, get a little smarter. Whether you're booking Snooki or any other "celebrity" that requires you to dip into the "mandatory" fees jar, charge students at the door. You'll actually make money - and save yourself and colleges everywhere some embarrassment.

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Photo courtesy: University.Unions photostream on Flickr


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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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