The Washington Post recently revealed that the University’s athletics department is operating at a loss. The department receives funding from the University operating budget, including mandatory student fees that add to $657 per student per year.
There is no inherent issue with students subsidizing athletic programs; student fees cover a wide array of University resources, including services such as student health and University transit, as well as funding for Contracted Independent Organizations. But, given that the athletics department is currently operating at a loss, an issue may arise if the department begins increasing its use of student fees to cover deficits — something that could easily occur.
In 2014, the athletic department brought in $17 million less than it spent, according to The Washington Post. Since 2004 spending has outpaced earning, and student fees have also increased. In just 10 years, the student fee for athletics went up from $388 to $657. To be fair, the percentage increase isn’t all that dramatic when compared with other schools. At Auburn University, administrators raised the student fee more than 400 percent just in 2006 — but the original fee was $36 per year, and the new fee was $192, which is roughly 29 percent of what University students currently pay.
Increasing student fees has real effects for University students. For a student working making the state’s minimum wage, the cost of athletic fees would be the equivalent of roughly 90 hours of work. These fees are not insignificant.
The upshot to this for students is that we don’t have to pay to attend athletic games — and the cost of attending games would likely be significantly higher for fans than the cost of student fees. At the University of Michigan, a student season football ticket package costs $295, according to Time. This cost covers just six home games for one sport — though admittedly the school’s program is a powerhouse. University students, by comparison, can attend every home game for every sport for free — a perk we don’t want to lose. The athletics department itself doesn’t have much of an incentive to charge students for games, since game attendance — at least for football — remains a concern.
The value of paying these student fees does differ for each student, depending on an individual’s interest in University athletics. But this is also true of student fees for other resources — the fees that fund various CIOs or resources like Safe Ride will be more relevant for some students than others. The issue, then, is whether the fees are being allocated responsibly, not whether they should be allocated at all.
Increasing student fees is inevitable over time, especially with inflation. But the degree of increase is concerning. As the athletics department works to lower its deficit, it should look for revenue-building solutions that don’t rely on student fees.