Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Student Fees are Funding the Athletics Arms Race

by: Matthew Denhart

USA Today has struck a major chord again. In the paper's feature article today, Steve Burkowitz, Jodi Upton, Michael McCarthy and Jack Gillum report shocking evidence that the largest portion of growing student fee monies go to subsidize swelling intercollegiate athletics (ICA) budgets. Furthermore,as McCarthy points out in a complementary article, students are largely unaware of how their dollars are being used.

USA Today's ongoing efforts to make details about ICA finances available to the public has allowed much greater exploration into showing how student fees are used to fund ICA. According to today's article:
Students were charged more than $795 million to support sports programs at 222 Division I public schools during the 2008-09 school year...Adjusting for inflation, that's an 18% jump since 2005, making athletics funding at public schools a key force in rapidly escalating cost of higher education.
As CCAP has pointed out in our recent Regressive Tax study on intercollegiate athletics, fees vary greatly across different institutions, and that the effect is highly regressive. McCarthy summarizes with this quote from me:
Those who can most afford to pay a subsidy tax actually pay the smallest amount, [and] Those who can least afford it pay the most.
At some schools the athletics fee is extremely high. USA Today reports that ICA fees can amount to as much as 23% of the total in-state cost of a higher education. Probably the most disturbing thing about all this is that students are often times left in the dark. Although states such as Virginia and Tennessee have laws mandating fee disclosure, institutions do not always comply, and if they do, fee amounts are very difficult to find.

The experiences at several schools with respect to student fees suggests that students have mixed feelings. Students at the University of Montana organized to reject a plan (by a vote of 2 to 1) to increase fees. Although the Hawaii board of regents imposed an ICA fee for the first time recently, students there protested it strongly. Yet, at Bowling Green State University and Utah State, students willingly voted in increase their ICA fees (despite the fact that existing fees already account for more than 5% of total in-state costs at each school already).

CCAP is preparing to embark on a large-scale study examining the issue of student fees and how they are perceived by students. Our results should provide rich information to continue this important line of reserach that USA Today has ignited.

No comments: