Last Updated on May 5, 2011
Thanks to Noah Pransky (@NoahPransky) of WTSP for interviewing me for his piece on USF student fees yesterday! Here’s the video:
And here’s Noah’s well-written piece on the story:
TAMPA, Florida – For most, it’s been four years of hard work, studying, and sacrifices. But one thing many of the 5,700 graduating seniors at the University of South Florida never learned was how much of their money was going toward the growing athletic department.
By the time the average senior walks across the stage to get his or her diploma this week, he or she will have paid more than $1,600 to the USF Athletics Department through student fees.
Each student currently pays $13.73 per credit hour to the athletics department, more than the $11.28 that goes toward student activities and the $9.30 that goes toward student health. Undergraduates need at least 120 credit hours to graduate.
All told, student fees make up $14.5 million of the university’s $34.9 million athletics budget, or 42% in budget year 2010-2011.
In the 2009-2010 budget, student fees made up only 33%, but it was still the largest total of any school in the six major conferences:
- USF (33%)
- Virginia (15%)
- UConn (15%)
- Rutgers (13%)
- Miss St. (10%)
“This is not unusual,” said Kristi Dosh of The Business of College Sports. “(Most) sports lose money and football and men’s basketball have to make up for it along with alumni contributions and student fees.”
But at USF, she said, the football and men’s basketball programs are only turning profits of $4 million and $1 million, respectively, so student fees have to balance the budget.
Dosh added that many Florida public schools in smaller conferences relied even more heavily on student fees in the last full budget year, 2009-2010 (student fees as percentage of total athletics budget in parenthesis):
- FIU (71%)
- FAU (55%)
- UCF (44%)
- USF (33%)
- FSU (9%)
- UF (2%)
At the University of Florida, the football program turns a $44 million profit annually – more than the entire USF budget for all sports. Alumni donations were also plentiful at UF.
USF alumni contributions were minimal, Dosh said.
“I’ve talked to a number of different athletic departments in similar positions (as USF),” Dosh said. “The hope is that in the future, as their program grows and their football team gets stronger, alumni will step up and shoulder more of the burden.”
Dosh said USF revenue has soared since joining the Big East and should continue to grow, potentially easing the reliance on student fees.
And officials at USF pointed out students that pay the fees have access to free tickets to all events, including the largest football allocation in the Big East.
Dosh and university officials both said a successful athletics program helps boost a university’s reputation as well as its academics.
“If the university has certain accolades and is well-known across the country,” Dosh said, “it can apply for research grants and other things…it can lift the whole school up.”
I’ll only add a few things to his story. Although UCF funds their athletics budget with a larger percentage of student fees, they charge less per credit hour at $12.98 per hour. However, they have a larger student body and therefore take in more in terms of dollar amount and use it to fund a larger portion of the athletics budget. Students I’ve talked to at UCF have said they don’t mind. They point to the outstanding athletics facilities on campus and their hope that spending like a Big East program will one day make them a Big East program.
The other thing I wanted to touch on is something I wrote about yesterday in my Five-Year Snapshot of USF Athletics Finance. USF has seen very little growth in alumni donations over the past five years at just over 8 percent. I checked a couple of other programs in the conference and their increases in alumni contributions over the same time period was far more substantial: Louisville had a 45.82% increase and Rutgers had a whopping 116.34% increase. I also checked some other schools I had laying in front of me, both of which also had far more substantial increases than USF: UCF had a 58.11% increase and Memphis had a 64.38% increase.
The bottom line is that students are always going to be left to shoulder the burden when football profits and alumni contributions are not. The situation at USF is not unique, but it does more closely resemble the plight of non-AQ programs than the status quo of other AQ programs.
It’s my opinion that students will see a return on this investment if the program grows. When athletics programs are able to reach a national audience they attract more applicants to the school. Over time, this allows the school to be more selective. As the quality of the student population improves, the university garners more accolades and is able to improve academically by attracting better professors, qualifying for research grants and so on.
You can read more about finances around Conference USA here and see the entire list of top 25 student fee recipients here. Interested in what your school’s athletic department is taking in from students? You can find the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 here, the Pac-10, ACC and Big East here, and the non-AQ conferences here.