Athletics over Academics

This is an op-ed contributed to The News Record, the student newspaper at the University of Cincinnati, by Stephanie Spanja, director of research at the University of Cincinnati chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

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Even though universities try to make the world a better place through research and education, money still makes the world go ‘round. When you follow the money trail at the University of Cincinnati, it’s shocking to find that, even though enrollment has boomed and more money is flowing into UC’s coffers, there is less to go around to fund UC’s mission of educating its students.

UC’s revenues come from a variety of sources: state funds, federal grants, donations and, of course, tuition. Tuition and fees now makes up over 43 percent of UC’s total annual revenue, as of the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Where is all the money going?

The UC Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which represents full-time faculty and some part-time faculty, has been examining this question for the past few years. Although UC’s budget has grown, the money UC spends on academics has actually decreased, when adjusted for inflation.

Student enrollment (full-time equivalents) jumped from 29,593 in Fall 2008 to 34,377 in Fall 2014, a 16 percent increase.

With an increase of over 4,700 fulltimers at UC in only seven years, and with significantly more tuition dollars flowing into the university, one would think that most of this money would be going to pay for the things that are most important to students’ education – high quality instruction and academic programs. But that’s not what happened.

The majority of the money that UC spends on instruction, which includes the cost of hiring and supporting the faculty, comes from its “unrestricted funds.”

Unrestricted funds are monies that don’t carry limitations from outside entities as to how they are spent. From fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2015 (the most recent date for which data is available), UC’s unrestricted funds grew from $855.4 million in fiscal year 2009 to $992.8 million in fiscal year 2015 in inflation-adjusted dollars, a 16 percent increase driven in significant part by a 39 percent increase in revenues from tuition.

Even though student enrollment skyrocketed over this period, UC actually spent 6.3 percent less on instruction from unrestricted funds fiscal year 2015 than in fiscal year 2009, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Meanwhile, spending on Academic Support–-including academic administration such as deans’ offices-–increased by 25 percent and spending on Institutional Support–- administrative units such as Administration and Finance and the President’s Office-– grew by 34 percent.

Over this same period, the administration more than doubled support for athletics. Subsidies for Athletics reached $20.4 million in fiscal year 2015. That’s equivalent to a full-ride scholarship for over 1,800 students.

The university’s disinvestment in instruction is having significant impacts across the colleges.

The number of full-time faculty represented by the AAUP dropped from 1,775 in academic year 2008-2009 to 1,651 in academic year 2014-2015, a 6.9 percent decline.

Although the administration has made some recent efforts to increase full-time faculty hires, these hires have not made up for the loss.

The full-time faculty to student FTE ratio has increased from 16-1 in fall 2008 to nearly 21-to-1. Although UC’s adjunct faculty are excellent and serve important purposes, full-time faculty are consistent presences on campus, not only teaching but mentoring and advising students.

Having fewer full-time faculty available to students endangers UC’s academic mission and the student experience.

In its 2015-2016 budget, the administration projected a $19.4 million increase in spending on Instruction. Roughly speaking, that would bring spending on instruction close to what it would be in raw dollars if it had kept up with inflation since 2008.
However, this increase still does not match student enrollment growth. The results of the audit for FY16 will show whether the Administration followed through with its budget plan.

The need is clear. In academic year 2008-2009, UC spent $8,765 per student FTE on Instruction (from unrestricted funds). As of academic year 2014-2015, UC spent $7,067 per student FTE. This is a 19 percent drop. UC has to focus on its main mission–providing an excellent education for its growing student population.

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