When I first read the news of Bellarmine’s plans for a sports complex last month, my stomach sank.
First, let me admit my biases: I have never been a sports person; I am certainly not an athlete; I am in some of Bellarmine’s smaller programs; and I am mere weeks from graduation, so my cynicism levels have never been higher. With all that being said, I believe that these new plans for Bellarmine are in fact indicative of a problem plaguing our institution as a whole.
When I was a high school senior and choosing a college, Bellarmine appealed to me because of its small-sized campus, classes and student body. I knew that, unlike at the state schools I was considering or the larger private schools, I could form relationships with my professors and peers. Bellarmine’s small size was stressed during the tours as one of its best features, and academics the most important aspect of college life (as it should be at an institution of higher education).
But as we all know, campus tours are far from accurate depictions of reality. Over the last four years, I have watched as Bellarmine administrators prioritized expansion and construction over academia. Vision 2020 encouraged student admissions at all costs, while current students struggled to afford and access their classes. Bellarmine raised $25 million for Centro construction/renovation, while other buildings on campus like Pasteur and Norton Fine Arts are outdated and often in disrepair. Though I received the annual tuition hike email every spring, I never felt as though my quality of education rose alongside it.
In the sociology department, for example, there are and have been three full-time faculty members over my Bellarmine career. They average 3 to 4 classes a semester, while also juggling committees, advising and research. The rest of the classes are relegated to adjunct faculty, who are paid next to minimum wage and often must balance multiple classes across multiple universities to make ends meet. Most of my classes have been taught by adjuncts, and many of them have been phenomenal. However, I wonder how many more of them could have been phenomenal given fair compensation for their time, and how many future connections could have been made if they had known me better.
This all brings me to my ultimate point: Bellarmine is following a national trend in higher education of deprioritizing academics in favor of fancy facilities and extracurricular activities, of lowering academic standards in the interests of expanding both the campus and the wallets of administrators.
At most colleges, the majority of athletics’ funds come from vaguely defined “student fees,” slipping by the attentions of those already drowning in student debt (I could not find specific athletic funding figures on Bellarmine’s website). On average, colleges spend almost seven times more per athlete than they spend on educating students, according to USA Today. Of 3,846 students at Bellarmine, only about 380 are student athletes, so the planned sports complex will be used only by around 10 percent of our student body. In addition, the complex is more than a mile from campus, meaning even fewer will likely access it. Will the remaining 90 percent of us be benefited by this expansion? I highly doubt it.
Across the country, administrators have raised tuition and student fees to accommodate skyrocketing athletic department budgets. The most common justification is that increasing athletics brings more students to a school, resulting in more funding for the rest in the long run. However, there is simply no evidence to support this. With football programs specifically, the outlook is even bleaker: according to Ethos, 82 percent of college football programs lose an average of $11 million per year, particularly at schools with small programs (as BU’s undoubtedly would be). To make up for these losses, admins raise fees, and this financial cycling results in our nationwide student debt crisis.
Bellarmine University will never be a Division I school in big sports like football or basketball, at least in our lifetimes. Personally, I don’t want it to be. If I had wanted to attend one of those schools, I would have – but I wanted a small school with a focus on academics instead. Unfortunately, Bellarmine’s administrators seem to have other ideas. The plans for this sports complex are a final disappointment in my personal tome of university missteps. I hope that admins will take the time to truly reconsider if another non-academic venture will benefit students seeking a quality higher education.
When I graduate in May, I will have been billed for around $150,000 in tuition, fees, and room and board for my time at Bellarmine. With a university-wide move from quality to quantities, I worry that my degree will lose value as time goes on, and I do not feel as though my Bellarmine academic experience was truly worth those six figures. Do you?