"Its near the library," Carly Brush, 19, says sheepishly as she leaves the coffee emporium, one hand in her coat pocket and the other holding a $4.20 venti white mocha. "I try not to think about how much it costs. My mom thinks its pretty stupid to pay this much for coffee."
A couple of miles away at Temple University, William "V.J." White, 19, walks the campus with two cell phones a PalmOne Treo 600 PDA and a Nextel i930 necessary tools, he says, for a cool college student and budding businessman. White runs a small venture helping other students buy new or used cell phones at good prices and says he needs to be seen with the latest gadgets even if it means having double $70 phone bills every month.
Students are splurging on everything from iPods and DVD players to bottled water, dining out, and outfitting dorm rooms and apartments. In the process, they are redefining the essentials of college life.
"Its a major market, without question," says David Morrison, founder and president of TwentySomething Inc., a young-adult marketing research firm that advises clients such as Nokia, Time Warner and Citibank.
"College students have the freedom and desire to try new things ... they dont like to admit it, but they are incredibly receptive to marketing."
They also have easy access to credit: 47 percent of full-time four-year undergrads have a credit card in their own name, according to Student Monitors national fall survey. But that isnt the only explanation for the spending surge, experts say.
Morrison, who is also the author of Marketing to the Campus Crowd, says much of the increased cash flow comes from more students holding part-time jobs, as well as the largesse of their indulgent baby boomer parents, "who have an expectation of what college life should be and are giving their children whatever they need to make life more enjoyable."
Erin Ryan, 21, a Penn fine arts major from Maryland, gets an allowance from her "very generous" parents that allows her to live roommate-free in a $1,300-a-month apartment near campus.
If its near the end of the month and shes running low on cash, Ryan cuts back on cigarettes and eating out, and starts looking for free entertainment and happy-hour deals. Of course, she says, her very generous parents oblige if she is forced to call home for more money.
White also dials for dollars.
"Ill say, Mom, I need $300, and shell ask me for what," says White. "Ill tell her I need food and to pay my phone bill."
But a lot of his money goes to shoes and entertainment, he admits. Just last week he snagged a pair of Air Jordan 14s online for $152. And though he lives only a few blocks away from campus, White is considering getting a car next year.
Whites mother, Valerie Powers, a former stockbroker who now runs her own e-commerce business in Washington, says she is willing to oblige his requests for cash infusions, to a degree.
"I dont just automatically give in. I do ask what it is for," Powers says. "I dont want him to be burdened or stressed with finances. His focus should be on getting an education, not worrying about rent or how he is going to eat."
Powers admits, however, that because she can, she has allowed her son some of the college perks he wants, especially since he has shown his own entrepreneurial skills. "He is spoiled but not spoiled rotten," she says. "There is a difference."
Many parents are willing to spring for cell phones (and often the monthly bills) because the devices provide a nearly constant connection to their children, fewer of whom, experts say, are opting for land lines in their dorms; 94 percent of all full-time four-year undergrads have a cell phone, according to the Student Monitor survey. After food and entertainment, phones make up the third largest expense for college students, who use the devices not only to talk but to send text messages and take pictures, all of which ratchets up the monthly bill.
Students, even those with pre-paid meal plans, are also spending money at restaurants on and off campus. In the Student Monitor survey, 52 percent dined at a full-service restaurant in the previous week.
Its such numbers, experts say, that are driving better restaurants and gourmet coffee shops to open up on or near university campuses.
Eric Bell, a senior at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., has also been tracking the swell in college spending. He believes it spells future disaster for many students.
Bell, 22, the founder and chairman of the board of the Hendrix chapter of Future Investors, an organization that promotes good personal finance management, says he has seen a friend drop out of college in order to work to pay off mounting debt accumulated from reckless spending.
"A lot of the problems come from families encouraging these spending habits," says Bell, who is also advocating for colleges to increase personal finance education for students.
That could come in handy for undergrads like V.J. White.
"Sometimes I look at my financial statement and say, "I could have done without this, this and that," he says. "I budget a lot after the fact."
© 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.