USC Football News: Trojans Stung by Varied Cost of Attendance Figures


The College football landscape is rapidly changing, with pushes for student athletes to unionize, health care being a topic of concern and cost of attendance being a hot button issue, especially when it comes to recruiting.

Starting on July 1st with the 2015-16 school year, football programs within the power five conferences will be able to issue augmented stipends to athletes that cover the full cost attendance, as opposed to simply a scholarship.

Dan Weber of delved into the topic on Wednesday, citing a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education which tabulated both traditional scholarship figures, in addition to full cost of attendance (COA) estimations from all 65 power five schools. The difference between the values is what schools are permitted to pay out.

Looking at the numbers, Tennessee looks to be the big winner, as the difference between their scholarships and full COA is $5,666, the most among P5 schools. When divided over nine academic months, the Vols are set to hand out $630 per month.

Needless to say, that’s fantastic for recruiting, as well as existing athletes. It decently compares to a part-time job, which athletes don’t have time for.

But those numbers appear funky when you consider that USC’s differential is only $1,580 annually, or $175 monthly. That’s a major recruiting disadvantage for USC in comparison.

Anyone who has gone to USC can tell you that those figures are laughable and not anywhere close to being accurate.

Why the astronomical difference? According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s notes, it all comes down to how the school accesses their own cost of attendance, with said data tabulated by CHE via looking at the universities’ websites for stated estimates on COA.

The disparity is a side effect of the university’s own doing, which of course comes down to how public and private schools present themselves.

CHE argues that “elite private institutions sometimes underestimate students’ personal expenses in their published cost of attendance as a way of limiting the sticker shock”. Public schools, costing less at the counter, have the luxury of being more honest about their full COA.

We did some digging and CHE’s assessment of COA couldn’t be more accurate.

USC’s disadvantage in scholarship/COA differential is entirely a result of the university’s coy own doing as they try to sell the school to applicants.

Per USC’s financial aid website, the $1,580 worth of previously uncovered costs are categorized by just $1,000 for “personal and miscellaneous” items, and $580 for transportation.

Anyone who has gone to USC can tell you that those figures are laughable and not anywhere close to being accurate.

For instance, per USC’s transportation website, a semester-long parking pass on campus is $445. Want to park across the Harbor Freeway and take a shuttle? That will run you $300 per semester. Planning to park at a university housing complex? $297 per semester.

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Again that’s per semester, and doesn’t include money for gas. Double that for a full year, add fuel and you easily dwarf that ridiculous $580 estimate if you chose to have a car.

And the $1,000 for personal items? You can’t even buy a Macbook Pro for that much money. Nor can you use leftover funds from the university’s budgeted $1,500 for books and school supplies on a laptop.

Furthermore, the thought process of paying out the COA is to assist with things like cellphone bills, as mentioned by the CHE.

You would be hard pressed to buy a cell phone and its subsequent service plan for less than $1,000 annually. But alas, the university has set their own idea for what the full COA is, and what they consider to be an appropriate budget for personal effects.

So if the university more accurately portrayed their estimations, the numbers would be more on par with other schools and far less absurd.

For fun, let’s compare USC’s estimates to those from COA-benefactor Tennessee.

While UT’s website estimates their transportation costs at $1,664 for the 2015-16 school year, their figure for personal expenses is a whopping $4,002. That’s quadruple what USC is saying their average students can budget for.

Again, ridiculous.

What makes going to Tennessee four-times more expensive per day than USC? Nothing.

Having gone to USC, and even being a commuter student, I can tell you first hand that there’s a significant financial burden of just being a student that goes above and beyond tuition and books. And Tennessee’s estimations on how much it costs to go to college is far more accurate, even if you could argue that it’s a bloated figure.

In this case, shooting higher is better than low-balling.

What makes going to Tennessee four-times more expensive per day than USC? Nothing.

So while the narrative will be painted that the Vols have a huge recruiting edge, the reality is that the system for paying out the full cost of attendance is flawed and rewards programs with universities that high ball their own COA.

On the surface it’s reasonable, as each school can be more or less expensive for a variety of reasons, making a one-size-fits-all stipend appear problematic.

But given how the basis for determining cost of attendance varies, with universities in the market of appearing financially attractive to applicants and both public and private institutions having different interests, the current setup creates the appearance of disadvantages.

At the end of the day, USC’s disadvantage with full COA is their own doing. Being honest about how much it costs to attend Troy would put the university from a $67,212 estimate to over $70,000.

And for the same reason why stores sell soda cans for 99 cents and not a flat dollar, lower numbers and/or fewer digits are more enticing to consumers. So it’s in the university’s best interest to fudge full COA estimates that they don’t necessarily have to be realistic about.

Therefore, the system for P5 schools shouldn’t be predicated on how each school estimates how much students will spend on vague “personal” costs, a figure that could easily be standardized.

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