What You Should Know About Tuition, Debt, and College Athletics



Graphic included as per permission granted by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Graphic included by permission granted by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Whether or not one supports Gov. Christie, his positions, or the Republican Party, the above exchange rightfully encouraged that Americans to think more critically about the cost of college education. Unbundling is a public policy matter. And yet, the smart college shopper can take advantage of several strategies to assess the value of a student’s post secondary education.

One of the many bundled costs is that of college athletes. Namely, subsidies that student pay by way of tuition that campuses divert to their athletics departments. Such transfers not only inflate colleges expenses, potentially imposing an extra tax on students who are not particularly drawn to an institution because of its athletics programs.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics maintains an exhaustive database and interactive tools that enable the public to data mine institution-specific college expenses and subsidies paid to their athletics department. The tools also allow you to make various comparisons between institutions, conferences, and the FBS.

Formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989, the Commission formed in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. Its initial goal was to recommend a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education. Since 1989, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has worked to ensure that intercollegiate athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities.


Graphic included by permission granted by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

The Commission’s resources can help parents, students, and other stakeholders better understand trends relative to institutions of interest, conferences, and types of institution handle academic spending, spending on athletics, institutional subsidies for athletics (via tuition), and debt for athletic facilities. These ultimately impact the extent to which college tuition that families/students pay is redirected to sports

Specific questions include:

  • How much of my tuition at a particular institution actually goes towards athletics?
  • How do various institutions of interest compare in terms of amount and percentage of tuition used to support sports programs?
  • What are the top 5 colleges and universities for students to have the lowest part of their tuition diverted to sports?
  • How do Sub-Divisions stack up on tuition percentage used for educational/non-athletic purposes?
  • To what extent do various types of institutions defined by Carnegie Foundation (e.g., research) differ in terms of students subsidizing sports?
  • Which colleges and universities within my state offer the highest values in terms lowest portion of tuition directed to athletics?
  • How have the relationship between tuition and college athletes and institutional comparisons changed over time?

Again, the above are just a few inquiries one fulfill through the Commission database. On the next page, we will look at how to use the Commission’s tools to answer such questions.


Kenneth Price

As Co-Founder of LowdCrowd, I hope that we make positive societal contributions through this resource.

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