Monday, October 25, 2010

How Much of Your College Tuition and Fees Are Going Towards Athletics?

Earlier this month, USA Today did a fascinating study of the amount of student money that goes to support intercollegiate athletics.  It seems that many colleges are supporting this programs as part of the mandatory fees that students are charged in addition to tuition.  In some cases, however, the athletic fee could amount to over 20% of the tuition.  And in many cases, the athletic fee is hidden under some generic title, such as "Student Activity Fee," so that students and parents have no idea that the money is going to the sports program.

According to the USA Today study, the amount that colleges have been charging for sports has been increasing dramatically; fees had jumped by 18% between 2005 and 2009 alone (adjusting for inflation).  So this is a definite factor in the rapidly-escalating cost of attending college.

The relatively good news for North Carolina students is that this state isn't too bad when compared to many others, according to the USA Today data.  Any guesses as to which branch of the University of North Carolina charged students the most for their athletic program?  Actually, among the UNC branches listed, the highest rate was required at UNC-Asheville:  $620, or 13% of the tuition total.  Next came UNC-Wilmington, with a $541.25 fee (10% of tuition), closely followed by UNC-Greensboro, which bills its students $489 (9.8% of tuition).  Our local universities were much lower.  UNC-Chapel Hill charges only $271, or 4.1% of tuition, but the best bargain could be found at NC State, whose $159 fee represents only 2.4% of tuition (Duke University was not included in the listings).

One focus of the article is how students are not aware that so much of their money is going towards athletics because the fee is not specified.  So I did a quick look at the websites of the UNC colleges listed to see if that was the case.  While not an exhausted search, I could not find any student athletics fee listed by UNC-Chapel Hill or UNC-Asheville (nor at Duke).  However, NC State, UNC-Greensboro, and UNC-Wilmington all had a complete breakdown of all mandatory student fees that had a clear designation of the athletics fee.

Personally, since our family has never been great sports fans, I think that fees over approximately 5% of tuition are out of line with what I think college priorities should be.  However,  I realize others may place a higher value on intercollegiate athletics.  Nonetheless, I believe colleges should upfront information about such fees so that students and families can know where their college dollars are going.  So I commend NC State, UNC-Greensboro, and UNC-Wilmington for their honesty on this subject, and I hope the other state schools will follow their lead.

If you want to see the list of the fees and percentages charged by other colleges in the nation, see the USA Today data at .


  1. This came up in Anya's book "DIY U" - in the topic of "unbundling" of college services. At one end of the spectrum, there is "the complete college experience" with student associations, athletics, clubs, bands, events, the gym, dorm life and everything else integrated with classes. At the other end, there are "a-la carte" classes tailored to get the professional skills and certifications/degrees as quickly, cheaply and overall efficiently as possible.

    I am not sure yet what K will select, but I am starting to advocate the quick and efficient option to her. The reason is that undergraduate college is a temporary community, so spending all that time and energy integrating into it, only to leave it after a few short years, seems a waste. Much better to enter communities where you can spend lifetime; you can have beer and go to the swimming pool with their members, if you so wish!

  2. I understand your point, but I think it depends on the college community. Many Americans do think of their college community as a lifelong community. Not only do some people keep their college friends for a lifetime, many integrate themselves into the alumni association where ever they go. Just today I got an email from the Triangle-area William and Mary alumni group inviting me to a W&M service day with Habitat for Humanity. And every December, a W&M alum hosts a Yule Log ceremony that echos the on-campus Yule Log ceremony that is the College's biggest Christmas tradition. And don't even get me started on how crazy people can get about the sports teams of their alma mater! Plus, generally, that affiliation is strongest for the place they got their undergraduate degree, more than their community college or graduate schools (if they attend those as well).

    Indeed, if these colleges were pressed for why students should have to pay for things like sports, the schools would say such activities build the college community.

  3. Тhis is a very good point, Carol! Undergraduate college is the single largest source of spouses, too, from what I remember :-) Maybe I need to think about it more as a network, rather than a community.

  4. I agree, that was what used to be the common agreement...I'm not sure if that has changed with Facebook and Internet dating and all that.