CSU, in dire financial straits, defends spending on athletic programs
Chicago State University, the financially unstable public institution that serves a mostly minority student body on the city’s south side, spends more than $3.8 million in taxpayer money per year on Division I athletic programs, including a tennis team consisting of foreign students, while overall enrollment erodes and graduation rates languish.
Earlier this year, the university declared a financial emergency and was notified by Illinois’ Higher Learning Commission that its accreditation is at risk -- the only public university in the state to be put on such notice. The Chicago Tribune reported that CSU laid off a third of its employees and must operate with a significantly smaller budget going forward.
Meanwhile, it continues to support 13 sports teams. According to the school’s 2016 Equality in Athletics Disclosure Act filing, 83 men and 88 women compose these squads at a cost of more than $22,000 per student-athlete per year.
The public university, located at 9501 S. King Drive, primarily serves a local minority population and is funded through federal and state taxpayer funds and student tuition payments. A paltry 2 percent of its students graduate within four years and only 11 percent within six.
According to the 2016 Internal Operating Budget, money is set aside to fund athletic scholarships, equipment, transportation and facilities. Such expenditures include annual “game day” expenses as high as $5,857 per player for women’s basketball and a total of $907,244 per year for coaches’ salaries across all sports.
While over 300 administrators or staff have been laid off in recent months in cost-cutting measures, the athletic program remains, and no men’s or women’s team has been eliminated.
CSU Sports Information Director Corey Miggins said the athletic department continues to prepare “all of its student athletes to succeed both on the athletic field and in the classroom.” The department spotlights the women’s tennis team as the best example of that success, finishing with a perfect 100 percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for the second consecutive year.
But while universities are routinely referred to as “four-year” institutions, the NCAA bases its GSR measure on the ability of its student-athletes to graduate in a six-year, rather than four-year, period. Therefore, the annual cost per student-athlete at CSU may be as much as 50 percent higher than estimated, and when other costs are considered, it may approach $40,000 per athlete per year.
Miggins came to the defense of the overall student body and said graduation statistics can be misleading. “At CSU, we get non-traditional students, including transfers and older students, and this aspect isn’t taken into account when considering graduation rates.”
Its survival is personal to Miggins, who grew up just a few blocks away from CSU and has been affiliated with the school off and on since the early 2000s. But he said the issue is bigger than that.
“CSU is the only majority-minority Division I institution within the State of Illinois," and one of the few in the nation.
With its enrollment declining and budget shrinking, school administrators and state legislators may need to decide whether devoting millions to athletics is the best use of taxpayer funds at a school that may soon lose its accreditation and cease to be a school at all.