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August 18, 2014 5:55 PM Paying College Players- Cost of Attendance Stipends

By Don Taylor

The Raleigh, N.C. News and Observer had a front pager yesterday on the changes that are coming to college sports regarding paying players. There are so many issues, and so many questions, but a key one is understanding a key University concept, “the cost of attendance (COA).” Duke University’s COA for 2014 is shown below:

Dukecostofattendance

Historically, the NCAA has prevented University’s from covering the full COA via an athletic scholarship, but the ruling in the Ed O’Bannon case stated that this could not continue. An athletic scholarship covers Tuition and mandatory fees, as well as room and board, but not other expenses. However, personal expenses such as books are not covered by an athletic scholarship (under Duke’s need based financial aid system, it is possible an athlete could get aid for these expenses, depending upon family income).

The News and Observer article terms the covering of what above is called “books and personal expenses” as a stipend. Note the differences in the Triangle of the costs of “books and personal expenses.”

  • At Duke, $3,466
  • At N.C. State, $3,828 for both in and out of state students
  • At UNC, $4,382 for in state, and $6,118 for out of state

These differences reflect policy choices by the schools, not just for their athletic programs. Merit based scholarship programs such as the B.N Duke and A.B. Duke don’t cover the full cost of attendance, but Duke’s need based financial aid program does (potentially, depending upon income) cover the full cost of attendance. At Duke there is also sensitivity about how large the “full cost of attendance” figure is, so there may be extra incentive to keep the “books and expenses” figure as low as possible.*

Calculating the full cost of attendance figure at a University is a highly idiosyncratic process, and there are many competing incentives. A quick look at the spread in the “books and expenses” aspect of Duke, UNC and NC State’s demonstrates. At UNC and NC State, around 8 in 10 undergrads have to be from the State of North Carolina. UNC shows a different figure for out of state as compared to in state, while NC State does not. Duke has about as many undergrads in a given class from California as there are from North Carolina, so it is hard to imagine how this amount in the expenses component at Duke could be lower than the in state figure at UNC.

I am not saying there is anything nefarious going on, but it is also hard to see how these figures at these three schools located within 30 miles of one another represent an externally validated cost to students. The Ed O’Bannon ruling is bringing attention to the cost of attendance figure for athletes, but this figure is important for all students at a University’s as a whole, and is set amidst a sea of many competing influences. The process of setting these figures seems murky, especially to families trying to compare across University’s. Because of increased attention due to athletics, the bright lights are coming.

*Duke has robust need based financial aid; the diddy I have learned is that a year at Duke costs $90k, we charge $63k and collect $30k. Around half of the undergrads pay full freight, and the other half is sliding based on income.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community and FreeforAll]

Don Taylor is an associate professor of public policy at Duke University, where his teaching and research focuses on health policy.

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