Students tackle athletic fees

'It was time to have those dollars be available for other things'

Students at 32 colleges and universities paid $125.5 million in athletic fees last year—but now at some institutions, those same students are pushing back against the bill, Will Hobson and Steven Rich report for the Washington Post.

Athletic fees are common at all types of institutions and range from inexpensive to hundreds of dollars per year.

Supporters say athletics foster a sense of community and increase school recognition, but critics say the fees push up prices and decrease accessibility.

"These students are being forced to pay for something that they may or may not take advantage of, and then they have to bundle this into student loads they'll be re-paying for 10 or 20 years," says Natalia Abrams, executive director at nonprofit Student Debt Crisis.

A Washington Post analysis of financial records of 52 universities in the "Power Five" sports conferences found that the combined income of athletic departments has been on the rise.

From 2004 to 2014, the total income of 48 of those schools' athletic departments rose from $2.67 billion to $4.49 billion. Luxury suite sales, endorsements, and lucrative television contracts contributed to this surge—yet many schools still charge students an athletic fee, and at many the charge remains uncontroversial.

However, a few schools—including Kansas State University, Alabama University, and the University of Missouri—have nixed the fee or announced plans to phase it out.

"If you look at the financial pressure on students, the increased cost of tuition ... it was time to have those dollars be available for other things," says John Currie, Kansas State athletic director.

And at others, students challenged requested increases and even the existence of the fees.

At football-centric Texas A&M University in 2012, then-President R. Bowen Loftin proposed a $72 charge on students to help pay for $450 million in football stadium renovations. When the plan came before the students, 65% said they opposed it.     

While the board of trustees approved the fee, the school has yet to implement it.

At Clemson University, the student government rejected the athletic director's request to add a $350 athletic fee last year. The director remained vague about why the department needed the extra $6 million from students when it brought in $70.4 million in 2014, the then-student president told the Washington Post.

Clemson remains the only public school in the Southeastern Conference or Athletic Coast Conference that charges students neither for sports tickets nor a student fee. 

And at the University of Kansas, a walk-on golfer challenged the student athletics fee—resulting in its reduction from $50 a year to $12 a year (Hobson/Rich, Washington Post, 11/30).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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