How Student Fees Boost College Sports amid Rising Budgets

USA Today published an article on September 22 in which it investigated the extent that student fees were being used to help fund the expenses in college athletics. As reported, many institutions do not itemize how student fees are used. Through its own analysis, USA Today found the amounts going to athletics are soaring, and account for as much as 23% of the required annual bill for in-state students. Students were charged more than $795 million to support sports programs at 222 NCAA Division I public schools during the 2008-09 school year, according to an analysis of thousands of pages of financial documents. Adjusting for inflation, that’s an 18% jump since 2005, making athletics funding at public schools a key force in the rapidly escalating cost of higher education.

The paper included the June 2010 recommendations from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports, in which the commission advocated making student fees apparent as a means to reform athletics spending.

“At a time when the cost of attendance at college is going up at a very high rate, it’s a matter of transparency and fairness and equity that people ought to know what they’re spending their money on,” commission co-chairman William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said at that time. “I think that is a way of bringing pressure to bear — this transparency and this exposure of revenues and expenditures — and beginning to put a hold on, to tamp down, the rate of increase (of spending) in intercollegiate athletics.”

Student fees for athletics are becoming an increasingly divisive issues at some campuses. In May at the University of Montana, the student body rejected by a 2-to-1 vote a proposed athletics-fee increase to $144 annually from $92.  At the University of Hawaii, students will be charged $50 a semester to help pay for an athletics debt of more than $10 million, despite objections from undergraduate and graduate student organizations.  Conversely, at Utah State University, students voted 53% to 47% in favor of more than doubling their athletics fee to nearly $120 a semester as part of a funding plan to help the school have a more viable program in the NCAA’s elite-level Football Bowl Subdivision.

To accumulate the data in its report, USA Today considered the most recent revenue-and-expense report that each school’s athletics department files annually with the NCAA. This document includes the amount of money the department receives from student fees “assessed and restricted for support of intercollegiate athletics.” In nearly all cases, the report schools filed in January 2010 covers the 2008-2009 school year.  In addition, the paper used enrollment data for 2008-09 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which makes available annual figures schools have reported to the government. USA Today divided each school’s athletics fee revenue by its greatest available enrollment figure, an unduplicated count of every enrolled full-time and part-time undergraduate, graduate and professional student.

Link here to the full article.