Study by OU Scholars Finds Students Wouldn’t Prioritize Athletics

A major study finds that OU students would prefer that less of their general fee be spent on athletics. Contrary to what high-ranking administrators have reiterated, Division I athletics hold only miniscule appeal for potential students. The study was authored by OU professors Richard Vedder and David Ridpath, along with Matthew Denhart of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington, D.C.

The study has made a splash nationwide with coverage in USA Today and a column by Vedder in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Locally, Jim Phillips authored thoughtful analyses for the Columbus Dispatch and the Athens News.

You can read the entire study here (pdf).

Vedder summarizes the study’s highlights in the Chronicle:

  • Most students severely underestimate the amount that their fee payments to the university subsidizes intercollegiate athletics (ICA);
  • a majority felt that their were other sorts of extracurricular activities deserving of subsidy support more than ICA (but which, in fact, receive far less support);
  • Fewer than 7 percent of respondents felts ICA reputation was “important” or “extremely important” in their enrollment decision—a majority thought it was “extremely unimportant;”
  • Over 35 percent of students attend no sporting events, despite having to pay $765 in fees to support ICA, about 8 percent of their total charges;
  • On average, each  surveyed student paid indirectly well over $150 for each athletic event attended.

Vedder, Ridpath, and Denhart liken the spiraling expenditures on ICA to an arms race. Moreover, as Vedder rightly argued last summer, high athletic subsidies amount to a regressive tax on the least-prosperous students. This situation is unlikely to change. As our colleague Jim Mosher pointed out in an A-News editorial last week, OU athletics will never become financially self-sustaining at its current level of expenditures, because regionally we inhabit a “winner-take-all market” dominated by Ohio State.

While we AAUP members cheer on our student-athletes’ successes, we question whether an arms race with such steep costs and meager returns can be sustained in an era of fierce budgetary pressure. A $15 million annual subsidy to athletics is hard to defend when we and our students face understaffed labs, ballooning student/instructor ratios, cuts to required classes, burgeoning workloads, and other threats to our core academic mission.

It’s time for an honest discussion about priorities. First and foremost, we at OU-AAUP value our ability to offer an excellent learning experience for our students, and we will fight to preserve it. We hope our colleagues’ new study will touch off a serious, open discussion that will draw in all of Ohio University’s constituencies: students, parents, alumni, staff, and faculty.

Update, February 2, 2011: The study also made the Wall Street Journal.

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