Walking through one of the student parking lots on campus, one will see a Honda, a Toyota, a Lamborghini and a Maserati. Walk through a faculty lot and you will see a Honda, a Toyota, more Hondas and more Toyotas.
A Pepp Post survey of the student lots at Rho and Towers and the faculty lots at Smothers and the Center for Communication and Business confirms that, as a whole, Pepperdine students drive nicer cars than Pepperdine professors.
“There is a clear distinction between (students) and especially staff,” said Maddie Fitzpatrick, a senior intercultural communication major. “You see a really nice car and it’s not like you go ‘Oh what professor’s car is that,’ you’re like ‘oh some really rich a** student.’ ”
The campus car culture ranges from mid-level economy to exotic and high-end luxury. Professors and students have different priorities and motivations when buying a vehicle. Faculty and students said the trend of students driving nicer cars than their professors is not exclusive to Pepperdine and is common at most private schools.
The campus’ exotic car collection consists of some of the world’s most expensive luxury cars. Three of the most prominent are the Aston Martin DB9, with a $200,000 base starting price, the Audi R8, with a $162,900 base starting price, and the black-velvet Bentley, with a $180,125 base starting price.
“It’s so ridiculous the kinds of cars that you see on campus,” Fitzpatrick said. “You become so accustomed to seeing them that you just kind of get de-sensitized. If you bring anyone who doesn’t go to Pepperdine, if you have a friend visiting from out of town who comes to campus, it’s like the first thing they notice, there’s a Lamborghini.”
Although the number of high-end vehicles may lead people to assume that everyone at Pepperdine drives extremely nice cars, this is not the case.
“Overall, relatively, you see a good diversity of cars,” said Cambria Lagana, a junior political science major. “But the nice cars are extremely nice. You will have mid-range cars, but you don’t see too many lower spectrum cars.”
The Pepp Post survey revealed Toyota and Honda are the two most popular car brands for both professors and students. These Japanese brands, known for their reliability and good fuel economy, consistently prove to be consumer favorites.
The student car culture versus professor car culture are two different recipes with the same ingredients, only in different amounts. For instance the survey found 55 BMWs in the student lots and only five BMWs in the professor lots.
“There are a lot of nice expensive cars,” said Zellie Short, a junior broadcast journalism major. “But there are lot of regular and ‘not-so-nice cars’ mixed in.”
The five most popular professor cars in descending order are the Honda Accord, the Hyundai Elantra, the Toyota Camry, the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota Prius. The five most popular student cars in descending order are the Honda Civic, the Honda Accord, the Jeep Wrangler, the Toyota Corolla and the BMW 328i.
Car buying considerations
“You don’t take a job in education for the salary of a fancy vehicle,” said Abi Smith, assistant director of forensics and visiting professor of communication.
Professor salaries differ widely by rank. An assistant professor working at a private university may make as low as $66,000 a year, but a full professor may make up to $120,000, according to Chronicle of Higher Education data. The average salary for a professor at a private university is $88,345, often resulting in little to no disposable income in a market like Southern California.
When it comes to purchasing a new car, most professors are not going to buy a car costing two years salary that only gets eight miles per gallon. Instead, professors said they are interested in cars that are practical, safe and good on gas mileage.
“You want to get the biggest bang for your buck,” said Kindalee DeLong, associate professor of Religion.
The Honda Accord, ranked as the most popular car in the professor parking lots, fits those requirements to the letter. Winner of the 2016 10 Best by Car and Driver, the Accord has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $23,000 and it gets 23 to 24 miles per gallon.
Not far behind, the Toyota Camry slides in as the second most popular car model for Pepperdine professors. This sedan has an MSRP of $23,905 and gets 23 to 35 miles per gallon.
Having a car with good gas mileage is important for those like DeLong, who commutes 50 miles round-trip to campus everyday. The cost of insurance is also a factor for professors.
Visiting Communication Professor Sarah Ballard said the people who own extremely nice cars, like a Lamborghini, probably have an insurance premium equal to her monthly car payment.
“They aren’t from a generation that is about spending a ton of money,” said Matt Lund, a sophomore math education major. “Our generation is a lot more about showing off your status, and teachers don’t care as much.”
Not all finance driven
“I have had teachers who are wealthy and successful people who drive Priuses,” said Zayi Reyes, a junior integrated marketing communication major. “They care about the environment, and they don’t want to flaunt their money.”
On the other hand, students tend to place a great deal of energy on their image and status. This attitude goes far beyond the campus gates and is echoed throughout the Malibu community. Malibu is an extension of image-centered Hollywood, with star sighting tours frequently cruising the streets.
“A car is the best way to show your social status,” said Jonathan Madson, a junior business administration major. “Pepperdine is very reliant on social status. A lot of people are very into making sure they look good.”
Obsession with image is deeply embedded in the culture of this generation, students said. Everyone is focused on being unique and standing out from the crowd. It is seen not only at Pepperdine, but also across the country.
Private school trend
“It’s a private school, so you are going to expect there to be nice cars,” said Danielle Li, a junior international business major. “If you chose a private school that means you are financially more likely to be able to afford that kind of stuff, so I think it is pretty normal to see nice cars.”
While Pepperdine does boast an ultra-luxury car collection, it is not the only private institution to do so.
Before Smith came to Pepperdine, she taught at another private Christian college in the South. She said there were a lot more trucks, which are not luxury vehicles in the same sense as a Maserati.
Smith said they also used their cars for different purposes. In the South, many people use their vehicles for activities such as mudding, fishing and hunting, so something like a Ford Raptor is a better choice than a Mercedes-Benz convertible.
For many international students, college is the only time they have the opportunity to drive a luxury vehicle.
“Kids my age in China don’t drive,” Li said.
Beatrice Young, a junior art major agreed. “International students, when they come here, get so excited about getting a car,” Young said. “They want a really nice car or their dream car, just because when they are back in their country they probably won’t have the the opportunity or even the need to drive themselves.”
Another factor is the huge price difference. Getting any car here is so much cheaper than in Hong Kong, Young said. A Mini Cooper, which retails in the U.S. for $52,000, can cost up to $85,000 in China.
Cars in the classroom
Ultimately, cars are a mode of transportation, and unless Pepperdine professors decide to start holding class in the parking lot, the type of car someone drives is irrelevant the moment they park their car and enter the classroom.
“Students don’t come with pictures of their cars pinned to their shirts,” Ballard said. “I think it is incumbent upon me as a professor to recognize, just because some students have way more money than I could imagine, doesn’t mean that they don’t need to learn how to be a decent human being.”
Holly Tarbell completed this story in Dr. Christina Littlefield’s spring 2016 Jour 241 class.