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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Opinion-- A list of regrets before I graduate
Opinion-- A list of regrets before I graduate
Sal Wiertella March 1, 2024

Athletics over academics? President of NMU’s AAUP shares thoughts and concerns over university funding

As president of NMU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, my job is to represent the interests of the faculty, which often align with those of students. Faculty are frustrated by a failure to invest in the core academic mission of the university. Department budgets have been cut significantly so money is not available for equipment, supplies and travel.

Faculty numbers have fallen faster than student numbers resulting in fewer course offerings for students, larger class sizes and fewer opportunities for students to engage in out-of-class scholarly activities. At the same time, spending in other areas has increased. Here, I will focus specifically on athletics.

According to NMU’s report to NCAA, last year’s athletic budget was about $9.3 million. Athletics raised about $1 million, so 89 percent of the budget ($8.3 million) came from institutional support.

This year, NMU will spend about $8.9 million on athletics. There are about 6,800 full-time equivalent students at NMU. So each full-time student is paying over $1,300 this year so that we can have intercollegiate athletics.

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There are 506 NCAA and U.S. Olympic Training Site athletes at NMU. Therefore, we are spending over $17,500 per athlete so that they can play sports. In contrast, the budget for academic affairs last year was about $57 million and that was cut $2 million this year. So we are spending less than $8,100 per student on education.

This illustrates misplaced priorities that NMU cannot afford right now.

Do athletics generate enough revenue to cover their costs? The average athlete gets $1,976 regular NMU scholarships and $7,495 in athletic scholarships for a total of $9,471 per athlete ($10,338 if we exclude Olympic athletes).

I estimate that the average athlete pays about $10,528 to attend NMU, which generates about $5.3 million in revenue. This is not nearly enough to cover the $8.9 million cost of the athletic department, and it does not go to pay for athletics anyway. It pays for all of the things that every other student’s money goes for: books, room and board, facilities and faculty, administration and staff salaries.

NMU is having budget problems largely because student numbers are falling. We are constantly told that enrollment is down because of demographics and our remote location. But our enrollment is falling much faster than numbers of Michigan high school graduates. Michigan Technological University faces the same issues, yet their freshman class is up 8.1 percent this year.

This is not because they are simply loosening their admissions standards. Their applications are up 4 percent while ours are down 10.6 percent. Furthermore, their average freshman ACT scores increased from 23.6 last year to 25.6 this year.

We have been told that MTU’s enrollment is up because they are a “niche school” (i.e., engineering). However, their enrollment is growing faster in non-engineering fields than in engineering. This has happened because MTU invested in academics and student scholarship, not because of their sports teams.

A valid argument can be made that good decisions are not being made about effective strategies for attracting students and maximizing the value of an NMU degree.

We are told that athletics attracts students—506 of them. But we spent $8.9 million to get them here. Think how many students who are seeking good value for their educational dollars we could attract with similar investment in academics. I am not suggesting that we delete athletics from NMU.

Athletics contributes to the university by building community, diversity and identity. We simply need to decide how much we can afford to spend on athletics when we are significantly cutting the core academic mission of the university. It seems unwise to start four new sports teams or buy a $400,000 scoreboard in the midst of a budget crisis.

If we advertise small class sizes, personal interactions with faculty and hands-on scholarship experiences for our students, then we need to invest sufficiently to provide them.

Additional details are available on the NMU-AAUP website, nmuaaup.org.

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