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Virginia Tech’s athletic program relies little on student subsidies, and makes it easy for students to see that. Other universities should provide similar disclosure.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
During the 2011-12 academic year, Virginia Tech athletic programs generated $70.7 million in revenue. About 10 percent of that total — $7.3 million — came from student fees.
Radford University’s athletic programs collected $11.7 million in revenue during the same year. But $10.3 million — 88 percent — came from fees charged to students.
Those numbers, found in a new report from the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, underscore a big difference between the Goliaths and the Davids in intercollegiate athletics. The report raises questions about whether students are even aware of what fees they’re being charged and why.
Tech’s program relies little on student subsidies because it pulls in large sums from ticket sales, Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA distributions, and a deep reservoir of donors. Its mandatory athletic fee of $267 per student is the lowest in the state, and it’s not a hidden charge. Tech, unlike most of its peers, lists the major components of its mandatory fees on its website, the report notes.
The JLARC report singles out Tech as an exception to an overall lack of transparency in disclosing fees students pay to support intercollegiate athletics. JLARC recommends that other colleges follow Tech’s example, and that schools also list the components of their mandatory fees on a separate page attached to student invoices. We agree. Then students and their parents will know that they’re paying a mandatory $1,185 (the statewide average) to support sports programs.
Radford, a member of the unheralded Big South Conference, gets little money from ticket sales, private donations or NCAA payouts. It relies heavily on a $1,138-per-student fee to subsidize its intercollegiate sports programs. Longwood University’s athletic fee nearly tripled to more than $2,000, the state’s highest, in the 10 years after the school decided to move up to Division I competition. Old Dominion University’s fee increased by 85 percent over eight years to $1,185 after the school decided to restart a football program.
The document released Monday is the second of five JLARC reports examining major cost drivers at state-supported colleges during a period of significant tuition and fee increases. Intercollegiate athletics is just one of the non-academic services that JLARC investigated for this latest report.
Most of the 205 students who participated in focus group interviews for the JLARC study said the athletic fees at their school were too high. Most said that having a successful athletic program was not important to them in selecting a school.
Intercollegiate athletics can enrich the college experience and serve as valuable marketing tools for the institutions. Conference affiliations, broadcast rights, ticket sales and alumni donations give schools such as Tech the capacity to operate enterprises that require modest financial support from students.
But at a time when rising costs are putting college out of reach for many families, institutions need to examine the cost of pursuing athletic glory and let students know how much of it they will have to cover.
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