The risks of paying student athletes

Resources at most schools are not only finite but also precariously balanced among core costs such as academic investments, financial aid, personnel, facilities—and athletics. An athletics arms race would, in all likelihood, jeopardize resources currently designated for other student support. Millions of students outside revenue-generating sports programs, including low-income, first-generation students, could be left with a dwindling portion of already insufficient financial aid.

This seismic shift in college athletics is taking place at a time when it’s harder than ever for poor students to afford college. The costs associated with recruiting future student athletes could undermine efforts to recruit and retain low-income students. As it is, nearly three in four college students in the United States have less money than they need to pay for college. Institutions at all levels must now confront the necessity to establish strong, clear guardrails of policy and finance around their educational mission—that is, around the learning that happens between faculty and students—and around the financial-aid investments that open college doors to every qualified student.

Student athletes give extraordinary time and effort to train and compete, and learn the value of teamwork, perseverance, strategy, and leadership. Yet this part of college life brings a high cost to academic institutions, and only a very few profit from it. It was long past time for the legal victory that student athletes have won. It is also long past time that schools commit to investing the same energy into developing, supporting, and celebrating students’ pursuit of education as they do into celebrating those who compete athletically. Above all, as the world of college-athletics funding changes, institutions should reaffirm the centrality of their academic mission and make the investments required to ensure that a college education is possible for all who seek one.