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Opinion - GSU's dreams have a price

Georgia State University has always served as the underdog to two more renowned state schools, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. But GSU is starting to close the gap. The question is, does the gap need to be closed?

GSU President Mark Becker has set the school's sights high, aiming to make it a more traditional university (read: more like UGA or Tech) than a commuter school by setting a goal for 20 percent of students to live on campus by 2015. (Currently, only 10 percent of students live on campus.) This goal is backed by the opening of two new dorms since 2007, with several more on the way.

There's also another huge step the school has taken to become more like Tech and UGA: GSU now has a football team. And while football is one way to close the reputation gap between GSU and those other two schools, the costs associated with the football program are helping to close another gap: the tuition gap.

GSU's annual tuition and fees are now within $40 of UGA's and Tech's. On top of a $200 system-wide fee hike implemented by the University System of Georgia, GSU recently increased its own unique fees — largely to launch the football program. Back in the fall of 2007, student fees amounted to less than $500 per semester. This upcoming semester, fees will total $814.

Not all students are excited about having a team and fewer still will benefit from it, yet this program is being built on the backs of the students, regardless of whether they want to contribute.

A common argument in support of football is that the sport will raise much-needed money for the school. But that's not always true. An NCAA study found that, of the nation's 300 Division I schools, only 17 earned a net profit between 2004 and 2006, and that was before the recession. What's more, 16 of the 17 were Division I-A schools — big names like the University of Florida, Notre Dame and UGA.

Georgia State is in the Colonial Athletic Association, a Division I conference. Is Georgia State football going to turn a profit? Doubtful, in its first year — or first decade.

A recent study by the Delta Project, an organization that measures how college spending relates to success, found that public universities are spending more on recreational facilities, administrative costs and sports than on actual instruction — a troubling statistic, given the return on investment.

While GSU has a new science building to help replace the aging Sparks and Kell halls, there are other, more pressing problems: inadequate classrooms, a library that doesn't have enough computers to keep up with demand, and an enrollment rising so quickly that there are fears of future enrollment caps. The caps would make GSU more like Tech and UGA, too, in that the school will be accessible to far fewer of Georgia's students.

Schools should focus first on academics and how to best serve the needs of the highest number of students, not on new buildings and football teams. Those have some value but should not be the primary focus.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was published prematurely. This is the version that appeared in print.

CL's Glenn LaFollete says GSU's decision to start a college football program was a smart one.

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