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NYS Exposed: SUNY undergrads mandated to pay for sports

May 09, 2018 06:29 AM

The cost of college. It keeps a lot of parents up at night. 

The tuition is sticker shock but it is all the other fees that pile up on your bill. And News10NBC found out SUNY schools charge a mandatory fee that only goes to a handful of students.  

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It's called the athletic fee. It is a specific fee that only SUNY schools charge and whether students play sports, go to sports or like sports, they're paying for the athletes. 

We went to the baseball game between the College at Brockport and the University of Rochester. Cheering down the third base line were Rachel Fiser and Cassie Birth. They play varsity volleyball at Brockport

"They come and watch us so we watch them," Birth said.  

They both know about the athletic fee charged by the college. 

"We're athletes so yeah, we have to appreciate it," Fiser said. "We definitely appreciate everyone else paying for us to do what we do best."

On the exact opposite side of campus, I met Marisa Groom and Taylor VanOrden, two students working part-time for a on-campus catering company. 

Brean: Do you go to football games, basketball games, baseball games?
Taylor VanOrden: I only watch them if we're working the event.
  
But she pays for it. 

The athletic fee is a mandatory undergraduate student fee and it pays for the uniforms, the food for the players, for some of the coaches and the transportation for all 23 Brockport varsity programs.  
The athletic fee at the College at Brockport is $450 a year. 

At SUNY Geneseo it is $510 a year. 

At SUNY Oswego it is $436. 

In fact, every single SUNY school, with the exception of the medical centers and the school of forestry, charges an athletic fee and they're all slightly different. 

SUNY Binghamton is the highest at $590. Buffalo State is the lowest at $327.

Click here for our interactive map and find the athletic fee for your SUNY school or the SUNY schools you are considering.

"Each of the colleges comes up with their own way of determining what that fee should be," said Dave Mihalyov, Chief Communications Office for the College at Brockport.

Brean: $450 a year is a lot of money. That could be a month's rent, 

Dave Mihalyov, Chief Communications Office, College at Brockport: It could be. 

Brean: Could be train tickets home, any number of things. That's a lot of money for students. 

Mihalyov: It is but we think athletics are an important part of the fabric of a college community and a college life. Students get to go to every sporting event for free because of this fee.

I checked with our local private schools. Nazareth, St. John Fisher, the UofR, RIT and Roberts Wesleyan don't charge specific athletic fees. But on average, their tuitions are five times higher than SUNY. 

Brean: If this money pays for things the college needs to spend money on, equipment, coaches, and it's mandated by the SUNY Board of Trustees, why isn't it just part of the tuition?

Mihalyov: Well, that's a good question. 
 
Part of the answer is that individual SUNY schools have no control over their tuition. That power and responsibility rests with New York State. So I went to the annual SUNY Board of Trustees meeting at SUNY Morrisville and at the board's finance meeting, the athletic fee came up. 

"There are students who say I don't participate in athletics why am I paying this athletic fee?" said Trustee Dr. Gwen Kay. 
 
"I don't believe there's enough transparency as to where these fees are going," said Marc Cohen, President SUNY Student Assembly and a Trustee.

I spoke with Eileen McLoughlin, SUNY's Chief Financial Officer.

Brean: SUNY is the only school in New York State that we could find that charges an athletic fee. No one else does. Is that fair? 

Eileen McLoughlin, CFO SUNY:  No, that's really not fair.

She means my question isn't fair. McLoughlin says private colleges and universities bury their athletic fees into their general student activity fees. 

"Or (they're) buried in their tuition because they can charge tuition rates that are $30,000 and above," McLoughlin said.

By law, SUNY can only raise tuition $200 dollars a year.
Because this is a fee, however, tuition assistance and scholarships don't cover them. Therefore, the athletic fee is money out of students' or their parents' pockets. 

Brean: The athletic fee is a mandatory fee. Students have to pay it. It covers operating costs that the colleges and universities have. So if that's true, why isn't it just part of the tuition? 

Eileen McLoughlin, CFO SUNY:  Well that's because our tuition which is part of our state finance law or state education law really is to cover the academic enterprise. And these are considered supporting functions to the enterprise but not core.

The College at Brockport gets $9 million less from the state now then it did 10 years ago. The college says these fees help make up the difference. 

In a statement, SUNY Geneseo said, "We believe that every student receives benefits from our athletic fee in one way or another. It's true that the athletic fee supports intercollegiate athletic sports programs, but it also supports a great deal more linked to our athletic department. For example, staffing and maintenance of activities in our athletic facilities unrelated to intercollegiate athletics are funded by the fee. This would include free skating time in the ice rink, pick-up basketball in the gym, open swimming in the pool, etc. Thousands of students not involved in intercollegiate athletics take advantage of these facilities every year for fitness and enjoyment. The fee supports intramural sports, and a majority of our students participate in intramurals."

Here is a list of all SUNY schools, going from west to east, with links to their tuition and fee web pages. You will also find links to the waivers for the schools that have them on their websites.  

SUNY Buffalo:

here and here

Buffalo State College: here and here

 SUNY Fredonia: here

SUNY Alfred: here

 College at Brockport: here

SUNY Geneseo: here

SUNY Oswego: here and here

SUNY Cortland: here 

SUNY Binghamton: here and here 

 SUNY Delhi: here

SUNY Oneonta: here

SUNY Cobleskill: here

SUNY Morrisville: here

SUNY Poly: here

SUNY Albany: here

SUNY Canton: here 

SUNY Potsdam: here

SUNY Plattsburgh: here

 SUNY Purchase: here and here

SUNY Old Westbury: here

 SUNY Maritime: here

SUNY Farmingdale: here

 SUNY Stoney Brook: here

Credits

Berkeley Brean

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