Have a Division I school on your prospective college shortlist? If so, you might be interested in this sobering statistic: According to a report by the Delta Cost Project, spending on athletics at Division I schools is three to six times as much per capita than spending on academics.
Let that sink in for a minute.
This refrain is nothing new. For years, higher education commentators have lamented this misbalanced appropriation of funds. But devil’s advocates are quick to point out that these top-tier athletic programs serve a vital role in the success of the university itself.
And there’s some truth to that. Just ask the average American to name ten universities. Odds are good he’ll rattle off ten Division I schools.
Who could blame him either? Those athletic programs are the faces of their respective universities, at least on ESPN.
Yet, the returns on visibility are modest. National airtime does appear to influence application numbers, but the correlation lasts only a couple of years and is typically associated with success on the football field (winning championships to be more specific).
The quality of the applicant pool doesn’t seem to be affected.
But what about alumni? It’s widely believed that high profile athletic programs provide a financial benefit to the university through increased alumni donations. And that’s true. Athletic success does increase alumni giving…for the athletic programs. Little of that money is ever directed to the general fund.
To put all this in perspective, athletic spending generally comprises only 5 to 11 percent of school budgets; the rest is invested in academic expenses. But, as tuition increased and state funding decreased between 2005 and 2010, increases in athletic spending at Division I schools outpaced academic spending by almost twice as much.
So while the popular notion that big-time sports help support the university—be it through exposure or revenue generation—in many cases, the opposite is true. Unless a program is self-supporting, which is very rare indeed, the cost is passed on to the university.
In other words, it’s passed on to the state…and the students, who it seems get the short end of the stick.