Portland State should separate athletics from the student fee

A front-page Oregonian article Jan. 6 drew attention to a State Board of Higher Education report that PSU and OSU spend millions annually in subsidies to their athletics programs. But there is another issue shown in the report that should receive attention and informed debate: the use of student incidental fees to pay for athletics programs.

Student incidental fees are paid by students each term in order to fund student programs such as student government, media, groups and athletics. Portland State athletics programs, however, are subsidized by student fees both in percentage and in dollar amount more than either the University of Oregon or Oregon State University.

Athletics programs at PSU received $2.4 million in student fee support last year, more than a quarter of the total student fee budget of $8.1 million. That amounts to over $100 of the $411 full-time PSU students pay in student fees each year. In comparison, UO and OSU spend $1.4 million and $1.5 million respectively in student fees on their athletics programs.

Portland State has a modest total athletics budget at $7.7 million in comparison to UO or OSU, which both spend upward of $30 million annually. But this also means that student fee support represents a much larger portion – nearly 30 percent – of the athletics budget at PSU.

Funding PSU’s fledgling athletics programs requires tough compromises. Removing student fees from the athletics budget would require more subsidies from the university ?” money that could go to academic programs. On the other hand, funding athletics through student fees diverts money from other student programs that contribute to the student experience at PSU.

Including athletics in the student fee pot does, however, obscure from the average student precisely how much they are spending on athletics each year, by burying the athletics budget among those of PSU’s nearly 100 student groups, despite athletics taking nearly a quarter of the available funds.

That is why we propose removing athletics from the student fee process and instead creating a new “athletics fee” to fund the programs. This is not to say that athletics would receive less money. The fee could be for the same amount that the programs currently receive. But making it a separate fee would add transparency to the funding process and allow open debate about funding of PSU’s athletics programs.

Athletics contributes considerably to the experience at PSU. It is a valuable life experience for hundreds of student athletes each year. It provides entertainment and a sense of school spirit for thousands of fans and it increases the university’s profile and notoriety.

Although athletics are clearly a valuable aspect of the university, we deserve to have an open debate about where the university’s development priorities lie, especially when decisions have to be made about funds that could be used for academics or other aspects of the PSU student experience.

A separate athletics fee would be an excellent start to that debate.