Report: Georgia State students paid nearly $90 million in fees over past 5 years to prop up sports

If you wonder about high student fees at Georgia public colleges, look to sports programs and empty seats

A new in-depth investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Huffington Post reveals many public college students are subsidizing sports at their schools. Of the 201 athletics departments at the public campuses studied, just about two dozen cover their expenses through ticket sales, TV revenue or donations.

How do the rest stay afloat? By turning to students to carry the costs, according to The $10 Billion Sports Tab: How College Students Are Funding the Athletic Arms Race.”   In the past five years, public universities funneled more than $10.3 billion in mandatory student fees and other subsidies into sports programs.

The story focuses on Georgia State University’s effort to build a new football program, in large part by using fees paid by all students at the downtown Atlanta campus.

Notice anything missing from this photo of a September home GSU football game? Fans. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

With GSU as the chief example, the report notes subsidy rates are “highest at colleges where ticket sales and other revenue are the lowest — meaning that students who have the least interest in their college’s sports teams are often required to pay the most to support them.”

The story states:

The Panthers, now in their sixth season, haven’t given fans much reason to celebrate. In the 2013 and 2014 seasons, competing at the highest level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the team recorded just a single victory. Average attendance last year was among the 10 worst in the NCAA’s top level. Yet Georgia State’s 32,000 students are still required to cover much of the cost. Over the past five years, students have paid nearly $90 million in mandatory athletic fees to support football and other intercollegiate athletics — one of the highest contributions in the country.

A river of cash is flowing into college sports, financing a spending spree among elite universities that has sent coaches’ salaries soaring and spurred new discussions about whether athletes should be paid. But most of that revenue is going to a handful of elite sports programs, leaving colleges like Georgia State to rely heavily on students to finance their athletic ambitions.

At Georgia State, athletic fees totaled $17.6 million in 2014, from a student population in which nearly 60 percent qualify for Pell Grants, the federal aid program for low-income students. The university contributed an additional $3 million in direct support to its sports programs. All told, those subsidies represented about three-fourths of the athletics budget.

It’s a great report and worth reading. Take a look.  The piece has an interactive database where you can look at athletic funding at each of the 201 colleges. Among them is Kennesaw State University, which put $42 million of student fees into its sports programs over the last five years.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.