For Americans, it’s difficult to imagine a college experience without a hefty price tag. Other than the fortunate few who secure full-ride scholarships, the majority of students know the debt awaiting them after graduation. Rising living costs and annual tuition increases serve to provide another deficit to the average college students’ already unnervingly thin budget. As expenses continue to compound, the question of how and where our borrowed money is allocated begins to transition from a casual curiosity to a level of urgent interest.
In order to answer these questions, it is important to disavow certain popular assumptions or to at least amend them. Initially, it’s easy to blame a perceived misappropriation of our tuition on athletics. After all, the University of Utah’s Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis reports that 15.44 percent of student fees, just over $85 for each full-time student, drains directly into the “Athletic Fee.” This considerable chunk of change is charged to each full-time student’s account every semester. With the Registrar’s Office currently reporting nearly 38,000 enrolled students at the U, the total amount per semester quickly reaches well over $2.8 million.
At first glance, this amount seems not only ridiculous, but blatantly irresponsible, and I’d imagine even the most diehard tailgater would struggle to defend it. As sickening a response it might elicit from a population that sometimes struggles even to pay for textbooks, an additional investigation can provide at least a small degree of understanding regarding the larger picture.
The word exposure seems to be thrown around quite often by those who defend the importance of healthy athletic programs, claiming that money invested by the student body pales in comparison to the benefits sports, like football, garner in areas like advertising for the school. Spending nearly $3 million a semester on a non-academic entity to somehow bolster campus infrastructure feels deservedly far-fetched. Our soon-to-be-departed university president, David Pershing, offered a much-needed, and rather convincing explanation last year.
On the heels of the long-awaited Pac-12 agreement, he detailed to KSL News just how critical an impact successful athletic departments can have on an institution of higher education.
“Being part of a major, Power Five conference like the Pac-12 is an important factor in recruiting some faculty, sometimes even ones who are not personally hugely invested in athletic competitions,” Pershing said to KSL News.
The importance of attracting the most qualified faculty from across the country is difficult to argue against from an academic perspective, and the revenue collected by the athletic department in 2017 alone is even harder to scoff at. Pershing alleges this figure rose to an impressive $79 million for the fiscal year, serving to add multiple campus facilities, increases in technology accessibility for students and a large portion put toward future projects.
While it seems like the “Athletic Fee” is everyone’s favorite tuition appropriation to criticize, a detailed look at tuition fee breakdown by the numbers and the sheer amount of resources and services afforded to students at the U appears to alleviate the sting, if only by a little.