Full-time college students are paying more for things that don’t directly involve instruction, researchers say, and the trend appears to be entrenched across the nation.
Those attending small and mid-size public colleges are actively subsidizing athletic programs. Those fees are generally wrapped up in budgetary line items called student activity fees rather than stating outright the funds will be go toward sports, concerts, etc.
On the flip side, college students attending private elite colleges are likely to pay for perks, such as $50 steak dinners or laundry services, which are staples in the “country clubization” of some college campuses.
“It is very clear that while there is a focus on keeping tuition down, nationwide, student fees are increasing at a rate of at least 13 percent more than tuition,” said B. David Ridpath, an associate professor at Ohio University during an email interview from Germany. “The bulk of those fees are in athletic subsidies and they are increasing even more as schools that cannot generate revenue to be self sustaining-try to keep up.”
No matter where the fees are collected, they are not always clearly defined to the student body, said Ridpath, who researched the issue and surveyed nearly 4,000 students. “Overwhelmingly students did not know how much they paid, and were surprised to find out. In addition the influence of athletics was not a major reason why they chose a school which contradicts what is being said—that a high profile athletic program increases enrollment, interest, fund raising. Most of the sample (of students who responded) would rather see that money spent on academic programs.”
Colleges and university officials might be missing the market when they offer extras in the form of fees, Ridpath said. “There are student-service programs that likely suffer as a result of this and even academics by extension. … We are out pricing the customer.”
Ridpath has collaborated with fellow researchers Richard K. Vedder, director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and Jeff Smith, a business management instructor at the University of South Carolina Upstate, who draw similar conclusions in separate interviews.
Author of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, Vedder said he has looked at the data over 30 years. “It is irrefutable nationwide that the share of university budgets going to instruction has declined,”’ he said. That decline shows itself in increases in administrative costs, growth in student services and athletics program fees, Vedder added.
“You can consider it a tax on the poor,” said Jeff Smith of the University of South Carolina Upstate, who has researched the impact of student funded athletic subsidies in less affluent colleges in 2010-2011. Smith said he has interviewed students struggling to live so they can pay an extra $1,000 or more a year to support things they do not use.
Poorer students who are paying for college with Pell Grants and student loans can’t afford these fees but they have no choice, Smith said. “This could be used for education and it’s going to athletics. The average student has to borrow and they aren’t going to get the kind of job they need to pay it back.”
Smith researched the data that small and mid-size colleges provide to The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the U.S. Department of Education, which led him to conclude that athletic subsidies are too high.
The sports programs in question are not the Big Ten schools, which generate enough revenue to pay for themselves, he said.
Smith shared a sample of his research to Diverse. It states, in part: “Delaware State and Norfolk State – both members of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) – collect more than $10 million annually in athletic subsidies from students. South Carolina State University, also a member MEAC collects $7.4 million in subsidies. Alabama State University, a member of the Southwestern Atlantic Conference (SWAC) collects $8 million. Athletic subsidies for Big South conference schools, such as The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, Winthrop and Longwood universities range from $3 to $15 million annually.”
Freddie Gallot, the vice president for business and finance at Alabama State University, said not all of Smith’s data seems accurate. But it is true that there is not enough to cover all of the expenses generated by the college’s 18 athletic teams. “We don’t have an athletic fee,’’ he said.
Full-time students at ASU pay roughly $1,620 in fees annually to cover their contribution to operating costs, student activities and athletic programs. In exchange, students do not pay to attend most events, Gallot said. That student fee does not include the $6,312 full-time students pay annually for tuition.
About 80 to 90 percent of ASU’s full-time students receive Pell grants and other financial aid, Gallot said. He acknowledged that his student body is “economically challenged.’’
Conversely, some private college students who can afford for hefty subsidies for non-academic services and events receive special perks that include weekly trips to the steakhouse and laundry services.
1924 Prime has its own webpage at High Point University. It’s the university’s steakhouse, which includes a five-course meal “in an elegant setting.” Labeled as a “learning lab,” Pam Haynes, the college’s media relations manager said the restaurant opened in 2009 to help students learn more about mingling with the business community.
“You have to consider the job market and what students will face on job interviews.” Haynes said. “This falls in line with our business program,” which educates 900 of the university’s 3,900 students each year.
“I talked to one student who said he landed a job because he was prepared for his interview,” Haynes said. “We want our students to be successful and we don’t want them to leave here not knowing how to use the right fork or knife.’’
Students at High Point can visit the steakhouse once a week and the price tag is included in the university’s comprehensive meal plan, Haynes said. Students who invite outside guests must pay $50 per meal.
Those sorts of perks should be flagged, said Ridpath. “Students today have choices and a four-year residential campus doesn’t have to the best one of them. If prices continue to rise, we will be biting the hand that feeds us… I am at a university in Germany right now and you simply do not see the extraneous things we have in America and they are doing fine.”