What Would Cost of Attendance Scholarships Cost?

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

It has been widely reported that both Jim Delaney, Commissioner of the Big Ten, and Mike Slive, Commissioner of the SEC, have made statements supporting the increase of scholarships to cover cost of attendance. Currently, athletes on full scholarship receive free tuition, room and board. Cost of attendance is often described as the amount necessary to cover all of a full-time student’s reasonable expenses for the year. It would cover things like gas or other transportation costs and laundry money.

Each school individually determines its cost of attendance. Some use figures from the federal government and some use student surveys to determine the amount. There’s also variance for expenses like health insurance or a computer, if the school requires students to have a computer. For example, University of Florida includes the cost of a computer and related equipment in its cost of attendance figure:

Computer costs built into student budgets are “annualized.” This means the figure is derived from one year’s monthly costs for purchase or lease of equipment (including printer, modem/ethernet, CD ROM drive) and annual software purchases/upgrades. These costs are figured over a two-year period.

Florida determines the transportation cost by not only calculating local transportation costs but also the cost of “three round-trips to Miami per two semesters”. Book costs are calculated “with 25% of books purchased used at 75% of new book price, and assuming resale of 50% of texts at 50% of cost.”

Housing is also a consideration when calculating cost of attendance. Obviously this figure is much higher at a school located in an expensive city like Los Angeles than one in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

One concern in raising scholarships to cost of attendance is the opportunity for schools to artificially inflate the figure to gain a recruiting advantage. This could be eliminated by creating some sort of standard for calculating cost of attendance.

The potential for artificially inflating the figure aside, cost of attendance increases would be considered a part of the athlete’s scholarship. The Athletic Financial Assistance requirement of Title IX requires that scholarships, both in terms of the number of scholarships and the value of scholarships, be allocated proportionately in accordance with the number of female vs. male athletes. Thus, increases in scholarships to cover cost of attendance would essentially be necessary across the board in the athletic department, with athletes in every sport being treated equally. Football isn’t treated differently just because it’s oftentimes the only profit-producing sport. Title IX doesn’t distinguish between sports based on profit.

This is where it starts to get expensive for athletic departments. At SEC Media Days in July 2011, Commissioner Mike Slive noted the difficulty some institutions would have if scholarships were increased to cover cost of attendance: “We recognize that this proposal may be a financial hardship on some, yet at the same time economics cannot always be the reason to avoid doing what is in the best interests of our student athletes.”

Only five of the SEC’s twelve member institutions are self-sustaining. That means that right off the bat over half of Slive’s members cannot afford to pay increased scholarship costs in their current budget.

USA Today recently posted figures showing the cost of increasing scholarships at each university. However, these figures are based on an average of in-state cost of attendance and out-of-state cost of attendance, so they’re not exact:

SchoolCost Per ScholarshipTotal Cost
Mississippi State$4,800.00$1,096,080.00
South Carolina$6,844.00$1,678,080.00

South Carolina, who would incur the most expense according to USA Today’s loose figures, already takes in over $2.1 million in student fees to balance its athletic department budget. If you were the AD, where would you get the extra $1.7 million for increased scholarships? As non-athletes to pay it via student fees? That seems absurd. Ask the university to cover it? According to the University’s audited financial statements, its operating expenses already outpace its operating income by $192.2 million. It takes state and federal appropriates and income from investments and endowments to get its financial statement back into the black.

How about eliminating sports? Cutting men’s indoor and outdoor track and cross-country, tennis and swimming would produce just enough savings to cover the $2.1 million in additional cost of attendance costs. Unfortunately, it would also put South Carolina below the required number of sports for Division I. If they had to cut one or more women’s programs, it could put them out of Title IX compliance.

Or, maybe it’s as simple as increasing football ticket prices.

Mike Slive said economic detriment to some members isn’t a good excuse for not looking into increasing scholarships to cover cost of attendance. So, if you were the athletic director at one of the seven SEC institutions that’s not self-sustaining, how would you find the money to cover this new expense?

You can see USA Today’s full charts on cost of attendance here.

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  • Kristi Dosh

    Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more

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  • Brian
    August 9, 2011

    It’s Delany, not Delaney. A common mistake, but I thought you’d want to know.

  • Rodney Fort
    August 9, 2011

    “So, if you were the athletic director at one of the seven SEC institutions that’s not self-sustaining, how would you find the money to cover this new expense?”

    Looks to me like the money is already there. The money that does not go to athletes goes to administrators, coaches, and facilities.

    Seems easy even at South Carolina. Your number above is $1.7 million.

    Administrators: I see various internet reports that put AD Eric Hyman around $500,000. Part of that is for his job and part of it comes from not paying athletes.

    Coaches: From ESPN.com, Coach Spurrier made $2 million in 2010. His total compensation increases to $2.875 million in 2012 and $2.95 million in 2013. Again, part of it comes from underpaid players.

    Facilities: The athletic department is upgrading the video screen in the football stadium at $6.5 million. Even if this is all paid for by contributions, part of that contribution value is generated by underpaid athletes.

    Seems there’s plenty to go around. I know that for South Carolina to act unilaterally on this is suicidal in terms of program prominence. But nobody will be acting unilaterally on this issue. The question of raising GIAs is an NCAA-wide question. An NCAA-wide action would simply lead all ADs to rearrange spending. And even at South Carolina it looks like there is plenty.

  • Ronald Hartshorn
    August 10, 2011

    I would be interested in the numbers the schools make on products such as T-shirts, beverage sales, pennants and other such products sold at the football games. Also how much are they paid for TV time, commercial advertising and such. Surely there is more than enough there to make some changes. (I may be wrong but from a layman’s standpoint…)