(MintPress) – Average tuition at four year public colleges and universities increased 4.8 percent, to $8,655, in 2013. With college tuitions soaring and financial aid stalling, students are seeing a diminishing return on their investment in higher education, driven largely by irresponsible, “consumption spending” by colleges and universities. This according to data collected by College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.
College athletics, a source of school pride, especially among the 202 Division I programs across the U.S., are sucking scarce resources from educational programs benefiting the general student population. In fact, public universities competing in NCAA Division I sports spend as much as six times more per athlete than they spend to educate students, a growing trend among colleges spending scarce funds on those frills “consumption aspects” of higher education, to the detriment of thousands of students.
“All students are lured by what we think of as the consumption aspect of higher education,” said Beth Akers, a Brookings Institute expert on education policy, in a recent MintPress News interview.
Climbing walls, football teams and flashy student carnivals, while enjoyable for many students, do little to advance the educational programs that benefit the broader student body that is interested, primarily, with education. This hasn’t stopped schools from catering to the non-educational interests of prospective students and athletic recruits.
The promise of a major windfall is possible for a handful of schools competing in televised championship games. However, the vast majority, even with Division I athletics, have little chance of competing with the likes of the University of North Carolina, Duke, the University of Alabama and other powerhouse schools that consistently win championships, bowl games and other prestigious athletic contests.
According to a 2010 report by ESPN, schools that receive the most directly from radio and television broadcasting rake in tremendous revenues for their athletic programs. Leading the pack is Ohio State at $15.8 million per year, the University of North Carolina at $10.2 million and the University of Alabama at $8.8 million. Kentucky and Kansas rounded out the top five, receiving $7.5 million and $6.9 million respectively.
March Madness, a month-long men’s college basketball tournament, has become an enormous cash cow for both the NCAA and CBS, the corporation with exclusive rights to broadcasting the games. Last year, advertising during the popular event brought in $613 million in advertising revenue.
In 2010, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) – considered one of the strongest, most popular college football conferences — grossed over $1 billion in athletic receipts. The revenue accounts for merchandise, concession and ticket sales, as well as television contracts and advertising revenue.
However, the average college athlete, while receiving a full college scholarship, often brings in $100,000, sometimes up to $500,000 for their university through merchandise and ticket sales. Most athletes however, live below the federal poverty line.
Some experts posit that athletes helping to bring in considerable revenue should be compensated with a salary in addition to full tuition. The bigger issue remains divestment from academics.
“The more recent discussion is that students are more lured by the consumption aspect,
such as colleges building climbing walls on campus. We need to be concerned about it,” said Akers.
Decisions based on athletic programs are leading students to make huge investments in their education based upon programs that have no direct impact on their future careers.
“They are making this huge investment in human capital. I feel that it is important to make sure that students have the information to make the right decisions,” added Akers.
Rising tuition, smaller returns
This happens all to the detriment of the average student who is not an athlete and has only an interest in receiving a quality education.
Akers also says that “the government is providing huge subsidies to higher education and that’s a great thing. We just want to make sure that they are not subsidizing climbing walls and sports teams.”
According to Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY’s higher education reporter, “Between 2005 and 2010, spending by athletic departments rose more than twice as fast as academic spending on a per-student basis.”
Over this same period, Marklein reports that average tuitions at four year public universities rose an average of 38 percent with only a 2 percent increase in funding from local and state sources.
Cumulative student debt reached an astounding $1 trillion last year, surpassing total credit card debt, meaning, quite literally, students are paying more for less — getting less return on their investments in education.
The solution begins, but doesn’t end with the federal government. Akers and other experts believe that Washington does have a role in giving students the right tools to make informed decision regarding their education.
By educating students, telling them to examine average salaries of graduates, graduation rates and other pertinent information, high schoolers can get a sense of what financial returns they may see going to a certain college based on the tuition dollars spent.
Akers concludes, “When you get students to make decisions, you have to rely less on the government to police this. I think generally that is a good outcome.”
Going forward, adjusting Pell grants and federal financial aid based on what dollars are spent on consumption — athletics, climbing walls and other frills versus money spent on classes textbooks and essential college materials — will also allow the federal government the means to more efficiently allocate education funds, a necessary investment for the future of the U.S.