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March 20, 2010 - Student fees increasingly used to help sustain college athletics

The Miami Herald reported on the increasing use of student fees as one of several forms of subsidization used by colleges to pay for their athletics programs. The use of student fees is particularly significant at institutions without access to large amounts of revenue.  At Florida International University (FIU), student fees are $14.51 per credit hour and average $350 a year for  students.  The fees added $14.7 million of revenue to the athletic department's $22 million budget in 2008-2009.  By comparison, the University of Florida athletic department carried a $106.6 million budget, with $2.6 million of that from student fees.

"Athletics give a university an opportunity to make a statement about who they are to a wider population,'' said Mark Rosenberg, president of FIU. "Nothing brings alumni back like athletics. It is a major part of the university's identity."

From the 2004-2005 school year to 2008-2009, FIU athletic department spending grew by more than half, while the overall school budget has rose a much more modest clip, from $502 million to $636 million, or approximately 27 percent.

In 2005, when FIU joined the highest level of college football, it embarked on a $50 million renovation of its football stadium. "We've got a beautiful stadium, something that some other schools in our conference don't have,'' said Pete Garcia, athletic director at FIU. "Plus, we play schools like Florida and Alabama in football and North Carolina in basketball. We're being asked to compete with these teams with less than 20 cents on the dollar.''

"Over the last couple of years, in a highly intense economic environment, athletic budgets have been growing at a rate two to three times the growth of the general university budgets,'' said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

The trend is unsustainable, she added.