Athlete, student spending ratio disproportionate


With a budget cut looming over Kentucky public universities, collegiate departments around the state are preparing themselves for austerity measures.

However, some departments might be feeling less of a strain than others.

WKU spends over $36,000 per student-athlete and only $11,000 per full-time student — nearly a $25,000 gap — according to a study by the Knight Commission, a third-party organization that looks at both academic and athletic spending for universities across the country. 

Faculty regent Patricia Minter raised concern over the spending disparity in last month’s Board of Regents meeting, citing the study and other statistics in her sole opposition of new head football coach Jeff Brohm’s contract. 

“Faculty find it devastating that we continue to pay such large amounts of money for something that is ultimately really nice and fine, but it’s not the essential part of the university mission,” she said. “Apparently, we don’t have a problem underfunding the vital parts of the university mission, and that continues to be troubling.” 

President Gary Ransdell said WKU spent significantly more per full-time enrolled student than the Knight Commission credited. 

“The Knight Commission is what it is,” Ransdell said. “They’re going to try and produce numbers that make their point and that’s fine. We have academic programs that get more funding than other academic programs. There’s no good that can come from making statistical comparisons to try to prove a point.”

Another Commission study reported university spending per student-athlete increased by 60 percent between 2005 and 2011, in current dollars. Spending on student football players increased most drastically in 2009 when WKU joined the Football Bowl Subdivision. 

Athletic Director Todd Stewart said, when compared to the rest of the country, the WKU department has fully utilized its spending. 

“Obviously, any cut that we incur increases the challenges that we have,” he said. “I feel good about how we operate…If you look at the success we’ve had on the field in terms of the championships we’ve won, coupled with the academic success and the impact our coaches and students have out in the community, I think we maximize every dollar.”

In 2012, Texas A&M’s Laboratory for the Study of Intercollegiate Athletics recognized WKU as one of the most economically efficient athletic departments in the nation, ranking second overall. 

In the last six years, the athletic department experienced cuts of over $300,000, Stewart said. 

Associate Athletic Director Darrell Horn said “trimming” would be in order for the Athletic Department if another cut is received.

“While a reduction amount hasn’t been distributed to the divisions yet, Athletics would look for ways to trim our supplies and probably contingency budgets that are used for athletic facilities repairs,” he said in an email.

In the 2005-2006 fiscal year, academics — including personnel and employee benefits — constituted 43.7 percent of the university’s total budget. As of 2014’s proposed budget, academic funding dropped to 29.6 percent of the $400 million budget. 

Students currently pay a $212 Student Athletic Fee in addition to their tuition and other fees. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education requires that any fees directed to certain university departments may only have that money go toward that department. 

“So many of these choices have already been made,” Minter said. “I would argue it’s not too late to back it up, take a good hard look at all of this and really think about where we want to go for the future.”