The Spending We Don’t Talk About

If you’re an average College of William and Mary student who stays here for four years, you will spend nearly $4,000 on athletics over the course of your time here. But will you get $4,000 in value?

Let me preface this with saying that athletics are valuable for enticing donors and that I’m not advocating for doing away with them altogether. Athletes are a valuable part of our community and there are clear — and massive — health benefits to living an active lifestyle that no reasonable observer would dispute. Athletics are important, but they are also rarely talked about in terms of honestly analyzing costs, benefits and value added.

Students at the College pay $3,636 over the course of four years, compared to U.Va.’s bill of $2,628.

This week, a student posted a Washington Post article on Overheard, inciting debate over the value of sports and the cost of associated fees. Students at the College pay $3,636 over the course of four years, compared to U.Va.’s bill of $2,628. Considering we are comparable in terms of academic prestige, value, and price, it’s worth looking at what our U.Va. peers pay to determine whether our costs are reasonable. Sadly, it seems like we’re being completely screwed over.

I am attempting to graduate from the College early in order to leave with minimal debt. I live off campus, do not have a meal plan, and have tried to winnow my education down to the bare essentials to ensure I’m not living outside of my means — in other words, I try to be as frugal as possible because college is outlandishly, cripplingly expensive. There are many students like me, as well as many students who can only afford college because to need-based and merit-based scholarships. I’m of the firm opinion that the majority of my money should go toward instruction, research, facility upkeep and hiring — things that more directly contribute to my education and the value of my degree. Of course, incentives are entirely skewed in higher education; a gander at state salary records shows that the best teachers are not rewarded with higher pay, but rather that the most credentialed teachers are paid the best, regardless of their teaching quality.

Our priorities are deeply and sorely misplaced. At the end of the day, student voices pale in comparison to donor priorities.

I’m not idealistic enough to think that higher education will move away from teacher credential and toward teacher quality. I don’t think incentives will suddenly be fixed, or that U.S. News & World Report rankings — which focus on things like athletics and faculty prestige — will suddenly stop mattering. I’m not foolish enough to think that we’re going to stop spending millions of dollars on Zable Stadium renovations and start prioritizing Counseling Center quality the way we should. Efforts toward the Integrative Wellness Center are certainly welcomed, but throwing money and a new facility at the issue of mental health might not solve problems with quality and capacity.

Our priorities are deeply and sorely misplaced. At the end of the day, student voices pale in comparison to donor priorities. This is clear from the Zable Stadium renovations, the amount of our student fees that goes toward athletics and the enormous tent that was constructed for alumni donors over Homecoming weekend (complete with a fancy chandelier). This article will only be a small blip on the administration’s radar screen, but we underestimate the power of collective awareness — if we grow in knowledge, we grow in power. If we vocalize frustrations with current appropriations, doubt as to their value, or interest in shaking up the status quo, we are one step closer to changing the way things are done here. Students at Texas A&M, Clemson and University of Kansas were all successful in uniting to alter their schools’ budgets. It’s a shame we’ve been too busy looking the other way.

Email Elizabeth Wolfe at


  1. The donor tent is not going away anytime soon. When you’re an alumnus, you’ll appreciate it…trust me. That being said, I agree about the recent glorification of Athletics at an institution that IMHO should be focusing on academics.(see #RisingTribe) Of course the college is going to pass those costs (new soccer field, new baseball stadium, football stadium upgrade) on to students. The question is: is it really necessary? We are not a sports powerhouse nor should we be. We are not Ohio State. The article failed to mention the wild building spree that has taken place on campus over the last 20-25 years. That’s where the real money went, along with the bevy of “administrators” hired in its wake…a good portion of which was undoubtedly funded through tuition spikes. How else to justify the much-fast-than-inflation increases? All in an arms race to have a high ranking in US News & World Report, a much-criticized and basically defunct enterprise.Shameful.


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