OT Decline public financing of "Public Ivys"

Submitted by J.Swift on December 27th, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Recent MGoBoard discussions about the financial burdens the bowl system imposes on teams that have to sell seats might be looking at only one piece of the puzzle.  The steep cuts to public financing of elite state institutions, discussed in the Washington Post, should give pause to any fan of college football.  Link:

In a period of declining revenue and increasing tuition costs, will universities continue to pour out money for a football program that is increasingly marked by escalating costs for travel, coaching salaries, equipment, etc?  The disconnect between the money spent to support football programs while students go in debt and often struggle to complete a degree in four years because of cutbacks to courses required for graduation is growing rapidly. 

I am not optimistic about the future of college football.




December 27th, 2011 at 10:16 AM ^

Michigan's already transformed into a private school w/ subsidies for local students from the public financing that it gets due to decades of declining public funds for the school - certain schools within Michigan are already 100% private (i.e. the business school)

Not sure about Virginia, but expect the UC schools to be affected - I know that they didn't take the early steps to privatize its operations that Michigan did and they're currently exploring different options to "Michiganize" their institutions.


December 27th, 2011 at 10:49 AM ^

This was my understanding as well.  The California schools benefitted immensely from a strong CA economy that helped defray tuition costs for most students, making it incredibly attractice for in-state talent as well as out-of-staters who recognized the opportunities there.  They are just now experiencing the financial drain that other states have been dealing with for years - they'll be okay, but I expect there to be some tough transitions.

As for UVa, I'm a little surprised simply because that region of the country has been doing better than most when it comes to economic growth.  Michigan I know was ahead of the curve on most of these issues because of the state's long-term financial issues, but schools like UVa and UNC should have been able to weather the downturn better, it seems, than they did.


December 27th, 2011 at 10:22 AM ^

College Football is a very profitable business, it's just that the money is going to the wrong places. People also forget that college sports are great advertising tools for a university. I know plenty of people who decided between two colleges based off of the success of their football or basketball program.


December 27th, 2011 at 10:31 AM ^

College football makes money for most D-1 schools. Most athletic departments are in the red not because of football but because they support many non-revenue sports beyond football. In fact, football is the funding source for most of the money needed to operate those non-revenue sports. Even in the situations where football itself does not make a profit directly, it can be a valuable PR tool. A successful program on the field (e.g. Boise State) raises the profile of the school in the media and often can be tied to an increase in the number of student applications. If budgets continue to be tight, it is the non-revenue sports rather than football that are the most likely to be cut.


December 27th, 2011 at 12:00 PM ^

although if you were take a stroll on the main street side box level during the 2010 season, that statement could be refuted. certain branches of the university were renting suites. little known fact right there.

I don't subscribe to the mark of a successful program being 'spend spend spend'.  the rebuttal is that the nature of college althetics demands it, that competing in the tier-1 level of D1 football requires a massive amount of capital.

this only holds true if the macroeconomic conditions support it. I'm of the belief that this country will continue to experience a decreased standard of living for quite some time (BLS data and anyone over the age of 50 can tell you that).

we've turned a surplus into a sizable defecit. Glick at $27 million was reasonable, the rennovations at Schembechler are reasonable, and the scoreboards were reasonable (not an engineer, but the strucutural work done around the stadium might have been contingent for the scoreboards going on, so scratch those as well)

I think the boxes and suites were too much. my biggest fear is that if there is precipitous decline, the University will bridge-loan the AD. msu is doing this already, to a degree. But that is not how things are done here.


December 27th, 2011 at 11:11 AM ^

I don't want to abuse the line around the "no politics" rule, but I think a school that takes no government money and therefore has complete control over its curriculum is far better off. See this interesting FAQ from the Hillsdale College website: http://bit.ly/sNx70O


December 27th, 2011 at 11:43 AM ^

You're forgetting one of the main points of the article, which is that certain prestigious public universities have historically been tools of social mobility because the public funding that subsidizes them enables the attendance of those who would not normally be able to afford to do so.

If the choice facing Michigan and its students is between accepting federal and state funding, and therefore allowing people to attend a school that would normally be out of their reach, and not accepting any funding whatsoever in order to be "independent," I think anyone here who attended the University would chose the former every time.

It's also important to remember that Michigan is a research institution as well. Comparing it to a small liberal arts school is hardly relevant.


December 27th, 2011 at 11:51 AM ^

Clearly valid and important points, but I don't think federal and state funding is the only way  to assist those who otherwise coudn't afford enrollment or to fund research. But that discussion is most assuredly a political one, and I am showing my libertarian colors. 


December 27th, 2011 at 12:24 PM ^

Yes, I think you're right that discussing this issue further would cross The Line. I think all of us in this forum can at least agree that a successful education system is a key component of a succesful civilization; how we achieve that success is not as important as its achievement.

The poltiical argument is about the how and not the end-goal itself (at least I hope so!).


December 27th, 2011 at 2:28 PM ^


Hilarious, the "slippery slope" argument. If you've never discriminated on any basis as you so claimed, then signing it should be a trivial matter.


[quote]In 1975, the federal government said that Hillsdale had to sign a form stating that we did not discriminate on the basis of sex. Hillsdale College had never discriminated on any basis, and had never accepted federal taxpayer subsidies of any sort, so the College felt no obligation to comply, fearing that doing so would open the door to additional federal mandates and control.[/quote]


December 27th, 2011 at 12:06 PM ^

It's actually a pretty bright one if it makes your school rather a lot of money. I dare say many D-1 programs turn enough of a profit as an entity unto themselves to self-sustain independent of the fiscal issues many schools have as a whole. It's a terribly successful business if you can make it work really.

The broader problem is the collapse in public revenue and how to balance it with rising tuition without sacrificing the traditional mission of these schools, which is basically to provide a world-class education to the public at large. I have my own ideas on this, but they involve verboten topics here.


December 27th, 2011 at 12:40 PM ^

You want to see something depressing just look at a graph overlaying penal system spending and education spending since the "war on drugs" began.  State budgets as a whole haven't really decreased they've been re-allocated and for some reason education always gets the shaft. This isn't a political comment both parties have done the same thing but if you are somebody who is pissed about the decreased spending on public education then this should piss you off.


December 27th, 2011 at 12:40 PM ^

I also want to tread lightly around the no politics rule, but I'm kind of close to this having lived in the academy for the last 5 years of so. Even as the state's portion of funding goes down the actual budget has gone up, oftentimes faster than inflation. There seems to be a notion, at least in the humanities side, where I am, that college should be immune from market forces. It's not "austerity" in the true sense of the word that is happening, for instance, LSA research funds have nearly doubled in 10 years. It's not as if there's less money to go around.


Academics have a different notion of what education is than the common man, but the rising costs, at least on the humanities side, are given to suppliment studies in the gendered construction of the Roman Republic. I'm a historian, I find those course interesting, but I also understand that they don't draw many students and they don't help those who do take the class get a job. Those costs are passed on to students who then take out loans, which are often backed by the federal government, which is replacing the state contributions no longer coming from the state. This is why you see people paying insane amounts of money for a philosphy degree.


What's frightening is what will happen when students are no longer willing to pay 100k to get a degree in philophy, history, English, etc, which make up a huge portion of the student body.


December 27th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

This is a crucial point that a lot of people miss.  Tuition hasn't skyrocketed simply because state aid has declined.  Universities have ignored financial reality, and continued to expand their budgets, and have simply passed the cost on to the consumer.   What's annoying is that they use the declining public financing as a cover for this.  Truth be told, even if public financing hadn't dropped by a dime, tuition would still have risen dramatically.



December 27th, 2011 at 2:53 PM ^

Where in the academy have you been that's actually been hiring new professors over the last 5 years? The ACLS has had to fund a whole series of postdocs to keep a generation of young scholars from dropping out of academia altogether because the job market's been so bad.

Rising costs have not gone toward funding humanities courses. They've gone to a new layer of administrators and professional staffers.


Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.

Apparently, as colleges and universities have had more money to spend, they have not chosen to spend it on expanding their instructional resources—that is, on paying faculty. They have chosen, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources. A comprehensive study published by the Delta Cost Project in 2010 reported that between 1998 and 2008, America’s private colleges increased spending on instruction by 22 percent while increasing spending on administration and staff support by 36 percent. Parents who wonder why college tuition is so high and why it increases so much each year may be less than pleased to learn that their sons and daughters will have an opportunity to interact with more administrators and staffers— but not more professors. Well, you can’t have everything....

If you have any remaining doubt about where colleges and universities have been spending their increasing tuition and other revenues, consider this: between 1947 and 1995 (the last year for which the relevant data was published), administrative costs increased from barely 9 percent to nearly 15 percent of college and university budgets. More recent data, though not strictly comparable, follows a similar pattern. During this same time period, stated in constant dollars, overall university spending increased 148 percent. Instructional spending increased only 128 percent, 20 points less than the overall rate of spending increase. Administrative spending, though, increased by a whopping 235 percent.



December 27th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

I don't go to a top, ivy program, but the jobs do in fact exist for those who want them. They aren't ideal, but they're there.


Also, just because more money is being spent elsewhere doesn't mean that no money is being spent in the humanities. As I said, LSA's research budget at Michigan has nearly doubled in 10 years. I'm not saying that it is inherently bad that it is, what I'm saying is that universities need to produce a product that brings more money to the university, either through tuition or from producing successful graduates who then give back.


Michigan has the benefit of remaining one of the best school in the world and they aren't as susecptable as other schools, but eventually you'll reach a point where the investment in education does not pay off for humanities. People go 100k in debt to get a history degree from MSU. That debt in the long run hurts universities because these students are less likely to give back in the long run as they try to move on with their life and get out of debt.


December 27th, 2011 at 3:51 PM ^

That increase in research budget, however, dwarfs the increases in administrators salaries. It's a red herring to suggest that "obscure" classes or humanities reseach (particularly when much of that research money comes from outside sources) have played even a marginal role in tuition increases.

And why bag on someone else's class? You may not find the construction of gender in the Roman Republic the most intellectually stimulating subject. But someone who has dedicated a great deal of their life to thinking about both gender and ancient Rome does. And they've decided that studying that material contains valuable pedagogical lessons in all the things that we (I'm also a history PhD) value. Interpreting primary sources, placing them in larger context, relating your arguments to the arguments of others, and conveying those things in legible, interesting prose are all skills that do produce successful graduates prepared to make meaningful contributions in a variety of fora. 

The issue of student debt is a real, looming, issue, of that I deeply agree. Universities have taken full advantage of the expansion of credit available for student loans to raise tuition far above the rates of inflation. And it has a deleterious effect on education, since so many students have to work 2-3 jobs while they are enrolled with full course loads. I just think that if you look at the places those tuition increases are spent, faculty research and humanities education is so far down the list as to be completely unimportant.


December 27th, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

This is from 2004/05, so there's probably something more recent out there, but if you're going to say things like, "self-sustaining" and "makes a profit," you probably should actually, you know, look at the numbers: http://www2.indystar.com/NCAA_financial_reports/. Take a look at the 57 schools that give their football programs "direct institutional support," and see what you think. Or the 108 schools that give their athletic departments "direct institutional support."
<br>In that year, as in most, Michigan did very well. Its AD pays its way, largely because of football, and men's basketball. As I understand it, in the late nineties, things weren't so rosy (so to speak). There are a lot of imponderables. For example, do you count contributions as part of profit, since they're tax deductible, and thus government subsidized? Where do the UM police department's extra expenses for traffic control and locking up drunks figure in? And so on. Iowa, where I teach, gave its athletic department 2.1 million of general revenue that year. If memory serves, we also raised tuition somewhere between 5 and 9% and the faculty amd staff didn't get a real raise, unless they were in the union.
<br>Finally this: if I'm teaching at a school like Michigan, a world class research and educational institution, and you're attending UM primarily because you like the football program, I don't want you in my classroom. I want students who are interested in writing (or engineering, or sociology, or law, or medicine, or music), not students who are interested in (admittedly, the best) helmets. (I exclude real athletes from this, btw. They're pursuing their vocations. Spectators are different.) There are plenty of people out there who'd pay full tuition out-of-state, and who are serious about their educations. Michigan, and any Big Ten school, can and should demand educational excellence. UM did when I was a student there, and I believe they still do. You can buy beer and tee shirts at a Target superstore.

snarling wolverine

December 27th, 2011 at 1:33 PM ^

Finally this: if I'm teaching at a school like Michigan, a world class research and educational institution, and you're attending UM primarily because you like the football program, I don't want you in my classroom.

This is a bit of a straw man. When I applied to colleges, I wanted to get a top-notch education in all respects, but I also felt that athletics is a key part of the college experience. I was a lifelong Michigan fan. Michigan's athletics weren't the only reason I decided to go here, but they were ultimately the distinguishing factor between U-M and other prestigious schools I could have attended (which did not have major sports). At this school I feel you can have the best of both worlds. I love that about it.

snarling wolverine

December 27th, 2011 at 2:16 PM ^

But that too is a straw man, because you can't get admitted to Michigan (as a non-athlete) without taking your studies very seriously.   If we were taking about, say, Boise State (a mediocre school with a great football team), you might have a point, but at Michigan it's a non-issue.  (And we should be clear: any student who uses sports as an excuse not to do homework is simply looking for an excuse.  If the school didn't have sports, that kid would blame it on something else.)




December 27th, 2011 at 9:10 PM ^

More a response to this: "I know plenty of people who decided between two colleges based off of the success of their football or basketball program."
<br>I talk to students who say they came to Iowa because they're Hawkeyes fans all the time. I think it's nuts, and they tend to be occupying seats that I'm sure Iowa could fill with better qualified students from out of state. But they're in-state kids, and they get a leg up on admissions because of it, as is only right, because they're also taxpayers. I'm guessing it's easier to get into UM if you're from Michigan, right?

Doc Brown

December 27th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

Finally this: if I'm teaching at a school like Michigan, a world class research and educational institution, and you're attending UM primarily because you like the football program, I don't want you in my classroom. I want students who are interested in writing (or engineering, or sociology, or law, or medicine, or music), not students who are interested in (admittedly, the best) helmets. (I exclude real athletes from this, btw. They're pursuing their vocations. Spectators are different.) There are plenty of people out there who'd pay full tuition out-of-state, and who are serious about their educations. Michigan, and any Big Ten school, can and should demand educational excellence. UM did when I was a student there, and I believe they still do. You can buy beer and tee shirts at a Target superstore.

I completely agree with this paragraph. I taught at Michigan for awhile in the chemistry department. I came in with the expectation for my students they are here at Michigan to receive a world class education, not to attend sporting events. I could care less if the football team had a game. Your education should have a higher priority. Therefore, student complaints about holding a midterm following the Ohio State game fell on deaf ears. I scheduled midterms for Mondays to give students the weekend to prepare and review key concepts that are fair game for the exam. Personally, I feel athletics is reaching a point where we are losing focus of the true purpose of American higher education, preparing this nation's citizen for careers beyond that of the factory line worker (ie management level and higher). Don't get me wrong I love Michigan athletics, but my love is for the academic side above all else.


December 27th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

Personally, I feel athletics is reaching a point where we are losing focus of the true purpose of American higher education, preparing this nation's citizen for careers beyond that of the factory line worker (ie management level and higher).

Is that really the true purpose of higher education? If so, why do we offer so many concentrations in humanities fields that are, at best, tangentially related to 21st-century careers? I'd argue that higher education has never truly been about the post-graduate life, but rather for molding a well-rounded, educated citizenry. If they can use their field of study to advance themselves professionally, that's a happy coincidence, but that's not the school's goal. I think far too many students take certain courses because they think they "need" them down the road, rather than because the subject piques their interest.  The truth is, for most of us all that really matters is that we went to college, not what courses we actually took.

I was a double-major at Michigan and have never directly used either of my concentrations in my line of work, but I don't regret taking them at all. They were part of my development as a young adult.  Following athletics, giving me a chance to bond with tens of thousands of strangers and form new friendships, was a part of it, too.  Now, I don't think students should get a test postponed because of a football game the previous weekend (that's going a little far) but I see nothing wrong with embracing that side of the school experience.

Doc Brown

December 27th, 2011 at 3:03 PM ^

We can go back to the days of John Dewey when they were having debates about what should be the goals of public education (initial debate was for the purpose of secondary education) in this country. Should it be to create a well rounded American citizen or should it be to prepare to move this nation's citizen for careers into management positions necessitated by the industrial revolution? John Dewey obviously lost the debate as our country moved its curricula and pedagogical goals towards preparing citizens for management positions. Otherwise, we would have never faced our current scrutiny on standardized test scores as the ends of Dewey's educational philosophy cannot be measured in such quantitative means. 



December 27th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

the messenger, if not killing him. 

But then. . . who gives a crap about education, long as I've got a good football factory attached to my institution. Sure, when in doubt I'll cast aspersions on the quality of an MSU or OSU degree, but in the meantime, I'm not much different. 

Go Blue. 


December 27th, 2011 at 2:51 PM ^

This article reads like it was written by an insecure Berkeley alum who didn't get in to Stanford. 

Having said that, the way in which Berkeley's finances have fallen off a cliff over the past 5 years is truly alarming. The UC system ran itself like the flow of money from Sacramento was everlasting. Glad that Michigan did a much better job of insulating itself.


December 27th, 2011 at 9:15 PM ^

Thirty's more like it, ever since Proposition 13. It just got much, much worse when the housing bubble burst.
<br>Fortunately for the "no politics" rule, fucking up the California higher education system, once a model for other states and even the world, has required the full attention of all kinds of people over the years.
<br>They'll still be plenty of money for football, of course, never you fear.


December 27th, 2011 at 5:13 PM ^

By way of comparison, I read an article about a year ago from when Mizzou was trying to hire Purdue's basketball coach, but Purdue raised his salary by $1 million to keep him. When asked why, they said that when their basketball team wins, alumni donations go up. I would imagine the same thing is true at most schools with D1 athletic programs, Michigan especially.


December 27th, 2011 at 6:42 PM ^

While I'll miss football, I'm glad we're entering the expanded OT post time of the year.

I read through or skimmed most of the threads, and have a few thoughts.

  1. The more independence a school has, the better. I believe we need federal and state funding at Michigan, but to the degree we can avoid the government being over-intrusive, the better. I fiercely defend and support the fact that all kinds of course-work is being offered. While I may have little interest in feminist studies, I am thrilled that such courses are part of Michigan. As a Liberal Arts Major, I despised those who only took classes on a purely utilitarian financial basis.
  2. I further defend and support the right of all kinds of student groups to meet, and love the tremendous diversity in the student body. This extends many different ways, however. When only politically correct views are acceptable, and students no longer can freely assemble because they reflect mainstream views, something has gone wrong.
  3. Academe is out of touch. There is no golden spigot that will always financially support the institution. The arrogance and entitlement of many in the ivory tower is alarming. This, however, extends to many public sectors of society. That is to say, our local school district (in a suburb of Chicago) doesn't get the resentment over teacher's salaries, and a failure to slash costs. (this will and needs to affect sports.) I hesitate to comment on the Detroit area, but it seems that there are very serious financial problems and a failure to deal with this reality. Regarding academe, there simply is only so much need for doctoral degree graduates. I shudder to think of what many PhD's are doing for a living. Unless you are very well connected or a rock star, you aren't going to be a tenure track professor at a top 50 university.
  4. College costs have skyrocketed far beyond the cost of inflation. In 1977, I was able to pay for my room, board, and tuition at Michigan through summer jobs and working as a student. Those days have long since passed by. My daughter is taking some gen ed classes at a local Community College her first year. In most ways, I'd rather she be at a good 4 year college, but I have to admit, it's nice that we will at least end this first year with zero debt.
  5. Too many people go to college. It has become an industry which seeks to perpetuate itself, but the reality is that too many students currently in college are not what I would consider college material. Admittedly, I have an elitist attitude as a Michigan alumni. However, I think that many individuals would be better served by trade schools than by a strong liberal arts education. jmhe.