By Bethany Vietmeier
Imagine going to dinner at a nice steakhouse with a group of friends, and when it comes time to pay your $531 bill you are handed a receipt with only a single number on it — the total you owe. This would not sit well for many people, but for some college students, it happens to them every semester.
Twelve of 13 universities in the Mid American Conference (MAC) are charging their students either a "student fee" or "general fee," but they do not explain what this fee is actually paying for on the student's bills. And it turns out, a large portion of the fee is funding MAC athletic departments.
For example, a Kent State University student taking a three-credit geography course pays $24 per credit hour to the athletic department. In addition, Kent State and some other MAC universities charge students taking online courses — students who never set foot on the campus — the same amount of fees.
Ohio University charges its full-time students taking between 11 and 20 credit hours $531 in general fees each quarter. Of the $531, about 48 percent, or $253.02, goes to the university's athletic department.
Other MAC universities that depend on their academic students to help fund the schools' multimillion-dollar athletic programs include: Miami of Ohio, where full-time students pay $453.65 each semester to the athletic department; University of Akron, $384.60 per semester; Bowling Green State University, $286.39 per semester; and Kent State University, $271.13 per semester.
In fact, most MAC athletic departments get the majority of their yearly budgets from student fees.
Ohio University's 2011 athletic department budget shows $14.8 million (81 percent) of the $18.2 million total budget comes from student fees.
Akron, Miami and Kent State's athletic budgets also depend heavily on student fees.
According to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, universities in the MAC spend four times more on athletes than they do on academic students. Yet it's the academic students who pay for all the school's athletic scholarships.
General fee breakdown not on students' bills
Only one MAC university provides its students with a breakdown of the student or general fees on their bills. However, the other universities claim there is no clear motive as to why its students are not given a breakdown.
"It's just not something historically we have done," said John Day, Associate Provost for Academic Budget and Planning at Ohio University. "I think most of them (students) just have an outline bill; they just see the general fee to keep things simple."
Yet Day said the breakdown is on the university's website if students are interested. It's buried nine steps deep on the website.
The University of Toledo also charges its students a general fee, but Assistant Bursar Jeff Bowman has no idea where the students' money from the fee actually goes.
"All of that money goes into one general account. It's pretty much a black hole," Bowman said.
And the reason Miami does not provide its student with a breakdown on their bill is because it would be "too confusing" for students and parents, Dale Hinrichs, the university's controller, said.
To read Bethany's story on her computer-assisted reporting class project website, complete with audio clips of interviews and graphics, click here. Read the PatchU introductory overview to this special series of stories from journalism students at Kent State University.