by James A. Bacon
Paige Taul, a 19-year-old University of Virginia student, earns $8.25 as a cashier at a college bookstore. Assuming no taxes were taken out of her paycheck, she would have to work about 80 hours to earn the $657 that UVa charges its students through fees to support the athletic program.
“Wow, that doesn’t seem fair,” Taul told the Washington Post, in an article about the cost of college sports. The irony is that Taul, who expects to graduate with about $30,000 in debt, doesn’t go to football games. As the Post dryly observes, “She’s too busy working.”
“Athletics is a common good, bringing people together, developing relationships, unifying the institution, bringing fantastic exposure,” said Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage. While UVa’s football team is nothing to brag about, its basketball team last year flirted with greatness, and the university is a perennial powerhouse in lacrosse, tennis, soccer and golf. But maintaining those programs is expensive. In 2014, $70.5 million in athletic department revenues had to be supplemented by $13.2 million in student fee income to keep the programs going.
That $657 fee is a not-insignificant contributor to the cost of attending the University of Virginia, where in 2015 total tuition, fee, room, board, textbooks and miscellaneous expenses amounted to about $28,800. (The cost is about $10,000 higher for out-of-state students.) The problem of escalating costs has gotten so bad that the Board of Trustees approved a new plan that will jack up tuition by $2,000 over two years to raise money for financial aid for the lowest-income students… but makes education even more unaffordable for middle-class students.
Here’s my question: Why does the Board of Trustees require students like Taul to subsidize the athletics program? Why can’t the athletic program support itself? Does UVa really need to field nationally competitive teams in tennis, golf and soccer that generate next-to-zero revenue? It strikes me that the university’s priorities are severely out of whack.
Higher ed has lost its moorings. Virginia needs a new kind of higher ed institution that provides a stripped-down service — an education without the bells and whistles — for an affordable price. Actually, that’s not a new idea. That’s the kind of education once provided by the old “commuter colleges” like George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University before they reinvented themselves as residential institutions aspiring to national status, and it’s the kind of education that many European universities provide today.
Middle-class families are in desperate straits, squeezed by stagnant incomes, soaring medical bills and the ever-escalating cost of a higher education (the entry ticket for a middle-class occupation). Higher ed has failed the middle class miserably. UVa’s top fiscal priority at present is to help low-income students and high-income faculty. The “Affordable Excellence” plan will ensure that no low-income student accrues more than $4,000 in need-based loans over four years. The plan also aims to make the salaries of full professors, which average $156,900 this year, more competitive with those of other elite institutions. The goal is to achieve a Top-20 ranking faculty salary ranking among institutions in the Association of American Universities.
What’s in the Affordable Excellence plan for Virginia’s middle-class students? Free football tickets! … Assuming they can make it to the games.There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 119134.