Roadrunners rely on student fees


Fabian De Soto, The Paisano

Brady T. Phelps

The Texas Tribune recently launched a project titled Ballpark Figures that publishes financial reports from the 8 public universities in Texas that play in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Ballpark Figures reports that UTSA Athletics sustained a $13.2 million loss over the course of the 2014-15 academic year; however, this figure doesn’t include subsidies (student fees and monetary transfers from the university), which are recorded as revenue by UTSA Athletics for accounting purposes.

When accounting for these sources of funds, UTSA Athletics recorded a profit exceeding $600,000 in 2014-15.

The vote that approved the increase in athletics fees was conducted in September 2007. Out of roughly 4600 students who voted, 65.9 percent were favor of the proposal. This effectively doubled the school’s maximum athletics fee from $120 to $240 per semester for full-time students.

Last year, UTSA Athletics received more money directly from student fees than any other public university’s athletic department in Texas – except for Texas State University (TXST), whose undergraduates paid an average of $674.

TXST’s athletics program received 17.3 million in student fees last year and $6.7 million from the university to mitigate its deficit of almost $23.5 million.

There are only two athletics programs at Texas public universities that recorded a profit last year – Texas A&M and the University of Texas – neither of whom received money from student fees or the universities themselves.

Of the other six programs, Texas Tech University (TTU) Athletics was the closest to breaking even without receiving subsidies; they recorded a deficit that exceeded $807,000. $3.2 million in student fees and one million dollars given to TTU Athletics by the university actually made TTU Athletics a profitable program.

The athletics department at the University of Houston (UH), a C-USA rival, recorded $18.8 million in independent revenue last year – $5.8 million more than UTSA. However, UH’s expenses totaled $45.4 million – roughly $19.2 million more than UTSA’s expenses for 2014-15.

To account for the deficit, UH Athletics collected $7.3 million in fees from its students and another $18.7 million from the university for a total of $26 million.

The University of North Texas (UNT) received roughly $20 million in subsidies last year, with $10.7 million coming from student fees and $9.3 million from university funds. UNT’s independent profit was approximately $11.2 million.

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Athletics program also received more subsidies than independent revenue in 2014-15. UTEP took in over $5.9 million in student fees and $8.5 million in university funds for a total of $14.4 million in total subsidies – compared to $13.9 million in independent revenue.

From the outset of the expansion of UTSA’s athletics program, UTSA Athletics considered student fees vital to its sustainability. The total contribution to UTSA athletics by students in 2014-15 actually came up $800,000 short of the figure projected in UTSA’s 2008 Athletic Initiative Business Plan.

The “Exit Strategies” section of the business plan stated, “If the Football Program experiences significant operational deficits that cannot be funded by sustained external funding, corporate sponsorships, and student fees, the University’s Administration will consider a number of exit strategies, up to and including terminating the Program.”

Considering the specific mention of student fees and the numbers included in the university’s plan to expand UTSA Athletics, the program seems to be on stable financial ground relative to comparable schools and initial projections.

UTSA students may pay more athletic fees than other universities’ students, but other universities’ athletic departments are just as – and often even more – reliant on student fees and university funds to break even.