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Athletics fee shouldn’t be forced

Four years ago, when I entered UMass Dartmouth as a freshman, I wasn’t too worried about paying for school. I had a scholarship that covered my tuition, financial aid, and – like many other college students in America – loans to cover the rest.

I was set. Or so I thought.

But, as the economy worsened, the money dried up quickly.

In the subsequent years, the grants I was given as part of my financial aid package turned into subsidized and unsubsidized loans, despite my GPA remaining the same. And while, yes, my scholarship did pay tuition, rising fees hit my bank account hard.

One mandatory fee that every UMass Dartmouth student is required to pay is an annual athletics fee of $225. That is higher than the student fee ($155), the Campus Center fee ($160), and more than double the health fee ($95).

To some student athletes and gym buffs, that may not seem like a big deal. But to those like me, who don’t play any sports and haven’t used the fitness center for four years, it seems like a waste of almost $1,000 – $1,000 that I can’t afford on top of everything else my education is costing me. If I’m already paying for a gym membership off campus, why do I need another one that don’t use?

Research has even proven that for many mid-quality state universities, athletics is not a main priority for students.

Two professors at Ohio University – a member of the Mid-American Conference and a school fairly similar to UMass Dartmouth – surveyed about 1,000 students on athletics and athletic spending. “In short, most students are relatively indifferent about sporting events, are ignorant of the costs, and not in favor of as high athletic subsidies as they are being charged.” Also, over 35 percent of students attend no sporting events, despite having to pay fees to support athletics.

A majority of students felt there were other sorts of extracurricular activities that deserved subsidy support more than intercollegiate athletics, but which, in fact, received far less.

UMass Dartmouth is currently the only one of the four UMass schools that lists a mandatory athletics fee on the expenses page of its website.

Neither UMass Lowell nor UMass Boston make mention of money that must be paid specifically to fund athletics. And although UMass Amherst charges students a “service fee” – which provides undergraduates access to intercollegiate athletic programs and reduced ticket prices – that fee also covers all bond issue debt service obligations of the UMass Building Authority for Amherst campus facilities and projects.

In addition, UMass Amherst is a member of Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whereas UMass Dartmouth is a Division III school.

Interest in athletics and attendance at Amherst sporting events is definitely higher than at Dartmouth. If asked to play a game at UMassD’s Cressy Field, the Minutemen football team would probably laugh at our metal bleachers, being used to their 17,000-seat multi-purpose stadium back home.

So why is UMass Dartmouth charging students so much for athletics and providing us so little?

It is understandable that the UMass Dartmouth intercollegiate athletics programs need some funding because a number of our students deserve the opportunity to play sports at the collegiate level. The student body pays to fund clubs and organizations, so why not athletics as well?

I am certainly not condemning sports. I just don’t think all UMass Dartmouth students should be forced to pay the equivalent of MLB or NFL ticket costs in exchange for access to DIII games and an average fitness center.

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