Tuesday, October 25, 2011

University Spending on Athletes vs. Other Students

Universities with big time college sports programs have seen spending on athletes ("student-athletes" in the vernacular) increase at a much faster rate than academic spending on students as a whole:
Athletic programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision spent on athletes at a rate that far outpaced academic spending per student during a recent five-year period, according to new research reported by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Spending per athlete grew by 50 percent in the FBS during the five-year period, while academic spending per student increased by 22 percent . . .
It should not be a surprise that the NCAA proposal to increase support for student-athletes has faced some oppostion on campus:
Mike Martin, chancellor of Louisiana State University, said that faculties on many campuses are pushing back against excessive spending on sports. “I’ve got 1,400 faculty who would love to get $2,000 more a year, having gone four years without any pay raises,” he said. “We say athletes need the full cost of attendance, but you may not need the full cost of living.”
Eventually, universities will come to realize that tapping the untapped value of their "student-athletes" is in everyone's best interests. But they are not there yet.


  1. Using "funding per student" as a member casts students as causing the costs, whether athlete or not. They are not a cost, their education produced is the point on the academic side and the things produced for the university by athletes are the point on the athletic side.

    We are not producing students and athletes. We are producing educated students and athletic contests.

    So just why is it that you use "spending per student" that creates all this baggage and distracts from what I think is your actual point: It may be time to revisit some of the values placed on some of the activities of the university?

  2. Rodney, Thanks for your comment ... I don't mind "spending per student" as a metric. Perhaps that is because I work at a university where "funding per student" is among the lowest in the nation.

    I see "funding per student" as a measure of investment, not of cost. What the graph in this post shows is a great rate of investment in athletics than academics, on a per student basis. This may get to the same place that you wind up: "It may be time to revisit some of the values placed on some of the activities of the university?"

    Thanks again

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. However...at the risk of wearing out my welcome...

    Funding per student is not a measure of investment either. The investment is not in students or athletes. The investment is in education and athletic entertainment.

    Again, identifying students or athletes as the source of the cost has two problems.

    First, it makes it sound like we're lavishing money on students and, especially in the case of your post, students who also are athletes. Neither needs to be true about any administrative investment in any department on campus, including the athletic department. And it certainly is not true of athletes (except as I said before about athletic facilities). The investment can be in other parts of the process that are producing the outputs of interest--education and athletic events.

    Second, as I stated earlier, "costs per student" cannot lead to any meaningful dissection of the budget process in order to get at the underlying question--How and why do university administrators allocate funds?

    So, please, just noting total budget allocations at least sends us in the right direction--how much is being spent on what? And let's actually get after the spending dissection with meaningful attribution of spending to the outputs.

    Then we can hope to inform a discussion about production priorities, academic and athletic.

  4. Hi Rodney,

    Informed discussion does not wear out welcomed ;-)

    We will have to ultimately agree to disagree on this topic. I certainly agree with your bottom line that we should include a discussion of outputs.

    That said, there are two reasons why a focus on "cost per student" (to use your phrasing) should also be include. The first is practical -- my university at least (and I'd guess many others) actually use this metric to make decisions. By analogy -- some academics think GDP is a bad metric, but we'd ignore it at some risk to actual policy analysis.

    The second is that there is some information in the metric. If the Spanish Department gets $10 per student and the German Department $5 per student, then I'd want to know why -- this certainly would get me into the question of "how and why do universities allocate funds?"

    As universities become more and more dependent on the tuition dollar -- which comes from the metric "student" -- I suspect that the notion of "cost per student" will only become more used, as ultimately these numbers are going to have to come close to balancing across the university.