Conflict of interest disclosure: The Cougar is in large part funded by Student Service Fees. To view our 2025 budget requests and SFAC presentation, go to UH.edu/sfac/unit-requests/fy25/ and look under “The Cougar.”
Last month, the Student Fee Advisory Committee recommended a surprise cut to UH Athletics’ 2025 fiscal year budget.
While many fee-funded units saw little to no change, the committee recommended a reduction of around $1.5 million to Athletics SFAC base funding allocation. Among other concerns, the committee cited a perceived lack of financial transparency as motivation behind the decision.
“We asked if any funds from student fees were earmarked for other endeavors for travel, and they told us that nothing was earmarked from the student fee funds,” said Anahi Ortega, technology leadership and innovation management senior and vice chair of SFAC. “The department gave us a runaround answer by saying: ‘All funds go into one big pile, and we just take from that pile what is needed.’”
While the committee recommended cutting the department’s base budget, the total reduction only amounts to just over $700,000. Athletics will continue to receive another $1 million as “one-time” funding — money that is provided on the condition that the organization or department receiving it justifies the allocation before subsequent SFAC committees.
The proposed cut would bring Athletics’ total student-fee allocation to $3,678,322 — a 16% reduction from the department’s fiscal year 2024 budget of $4,407,707. The committee recommended the University reallocate a large portion of those funds as compensation increases for other fee-funded organizations.
What is SFAC?
SFAC consists of seven students, two faculty members and one non-voting advisor responsible for recommending the funding allocations for Student Service Fees.
Student Service Fees are a flat rate added to every student’s tuition each semester and are what make up the entirety of the committee’s budget. The fee rate for both the fall and spring semesters is $260 per student enrolled in six or more hours and $244 for those registered for six or fewer hours.
The fee rates for the summer semester are $217 for four or more hours and $212 for students taking four hours or less.
There are 33 total departments and organizations that SFAC recommends the budget for and a majority of student-run organizations rely on Student Service Fees to operate. Examples include Counseling and Psychological Services, the Student Government Association and of course, The Cougar.
The projected base budget for the fiscal year 2025 is approximately $23,092,800.
Athletics traditionally receives largest slice of the pie
An important thing to note is that the funds provided by SFAC make up just a small portion of Athletics’ total budget, a large portion of which is provided for by alumni, event revenue and institutional support. But by no surprise, Athletics still draws the lion’s share of Student Service Fees relative to other units. Further, the report states that the department receives significantly more support from Student Service Fees compared to alternative Big 12 Conference schools.
“Considering other Big 12 schools, UH Athletics receives substantially more Student Service Fee support, 184% of the Big 12 average,” the report stated. “Even after the $1.5 million reduction, UH Athletics will still be receiving 151% of the Big 12 average and will continue to until 2037.”
During an interview with The Cougar, Vice President for Athletics Chris Pezman discussed the department’s revenue projections ahead of the 2023 football season.
“As we move ahead, where we have to grow is our self-generated revenue: ticket sales, donations, parking concessions, merch, all those. We’re looking at probably close to a 250% to 300% increase across the board in each one of those revenue streams,” Pezman said.
Mechanical engineering sophomore and SFAC Chair Yusuf Kadi believes that, with the projected revenue increases, Athletics should slowly wean off Student Service Fees to devote newly freed funding for student-serving organizations relying on the fees. In addition, the department’s alleged failure to provide detailed accounting alongside lacking a clear cost-benefit analysis were key factors behind the committee’s recommendation.
Kadi and other members of SFAC said these issues were made apparent in the department’s SFAC presentation — a yearly meeting where the top executives of funded units justify their use of SFAC funds. Athletics’ presentation, as well as those of every other SFAC-funded organization, can be found at UH.edu/sfac.
“Athletics hasn’t been able to demonstrate its utilization of the money SFAC gives them,” Kadi said. “All other units provide very accurate and detailed breakdowns of exactly where everything is going, and with Athletics, we didn’t receive that.”
According to Ortega, Pezman’s presentation failed to provide concrete answers regarding the internal use of SFAC funds. Ortega and Kadi consider the perceived lack of transparency unfair to other SFAC-funded programs that did provide detailed information.
An important principle for Kadi and the committee was the return on investment that students receive by paying the Student Service Fee.
“The number of services, benefits and experiences these programs give to the students was the most important factor we consider,” Kadi said. Compared to other units, athletics’ use of SFAC funds for student engagement does not justify the amount of support the committee gives them, Kadi claims.
The report recommended Athletics account for SFAC-provided funds separately from their normal operating budget. The intent is to ensure that money given to the program is spent on events and experiences specifically for the student body.
For Ortega, cutting support for Athletics was a difficult but necessary decision.
“At this point, the consistent support of athletics will start inhibiting the growth of other units,” Ortega said. “By cutting Athletics support, SFAC can allocate additional funding to Counseling and Psychological Services, the Center for Student Advocacy and Community and other student-focused units.
Another major recommendation from this year’s report was maintaining the current Student Service Fee rate. The report cites the University’s affordability as a major factor in their reasoning..
“For the time being, it’s a good decision,” said faculty SFAC member Chad Wayne. “But at some point, SFAC will have to decide to either keep services and pay higher student fees or keep the fees the same and eliminate services.”
SFAC is expected to meet with UH President Renu Khator later this month to discuss their recommendations for the 2024- 2025 fiscal year before it is proposed to the Board of Regents, therefore the decision is not yet final.
“SFAC’s recommendations for FY25 are currently under consideration,” said UH Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice President of Media Relations Shawn Lindsey. “The University is currently developing its FY25 budget. Final budget recommendations will be presented to the UH System Board of Regents later this year. “