The Balance of Academics and Athletics—and the cost
to support them

by Charles W. Steger '69

Last fall, the Virginia General Assembly's audit arm, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), released a report critical of nonacademic student fees. In particular, it highlighted high fees for intercollegiate athletics. However, Virginia Tech fared well in the report, with the lowest athletic fee in the state by a wide margin.

Virginia Tech students paid $267 in the 2011-12 academic year (the fee is now $273) versus an average of $1,185 for all public colleges, the study noted. The highest was $2,044.

Also, last fall Virginia Tech was featured in Gregg Easterbrook's book, "The King of Sports," as one of the few well-run football programs nationally, a program in which students graduate and the team wins. The author declares, "Virginia Tech's program is in many respects an ideal—run about as well as can be imagined."

More recently, we were feted with the news that Virginia Tech had the highest Graduation Success Rate (GSR)—an NCAA measure based on graduation—of any public school in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), for all sports and for football. The men's basketball team ranked second among all ACC schools with a GSR 20 points above the Division 1 average.

I believe those factoids all point to a larger message: Your alma mater works hard to keep overall costs low while still reaching for the stars.

Clearly, the cost of higher education has risen in recent years as state support has plummeted. But our administration, and those before, always has kept a lid on nonacademic fees, known as the "comprehensive" fee. Today, the fee of $1,752 remains the lowest in Virginia. Non-education fees comprise only about 15 percent of total mandatory costs here. (The athletic fee is included in the comprehensive fee.)

Only 2 percent of all Virginia Tech tuition and fees goes toward athletics. The state average is 12 percent, and one school devotes 24 percent to athletics. Yet, Virginia Tech students are guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum. They find excellence and a seat.

And Frank Beamer is the winningest active coach in Division I's Football Bowl Subdivision.

Why? I believe it is because we know our priorities and we balance them appropriately.

Virginia Tech has long been known for offering a high-value education. Tuition and fees here rank in the middle of the pack as compared to peer universities. Total cost to attend is less at Tech than at 19 of 24 peer schools. We appear on Kiplinger's value list every year. In a recent study by Buzz Feed, we ranked in the top 10 nationally when comparing the starting salary of graduates to tuition.

And yes, we like to win on the field or the court. But I like to think there is something level-headed about our approach. Coach Beamer stresses time and again the value of education. All athletes, including those in football, graduate at rates on par with the student body. About two decades ago, we moved the responsibility for athletic advising from the coaches to the provost. Our students demonstrate excellence in competition and in the classroom.

Rankings, including those by Princeton Review, place Virginia Tech food services among the nation's best, and we are consistently in the top three. Yet, our food service (one of only two in the state run by the university and not a private contractor) is among the least expensive, with the third-lowest cost of Virginia's 15 public colleges and universities.

Excellence costs money. But it need not come at an exorbitant price. Virginia Tech ranks among the nation's top 25 public universities. Our graduates get good-paying jobs. Our teams perform and compete well. As I write this, women's soccer is in the nation's top 10. A balanced mindset, a focus on costs, and knowing what really matters all comprise the Virginia Tech way.

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