Steven Cole, Student Government president, released a statement expressing his frustration with the Free Tuition Toss competition Oct. 30.
Alex Theisen, a freshman, won a year’s worth of free tuition at the football game against Western Michigan University on Oct. 29. The award, worth approximately $10,000, covered 24 credit hours.
In addition to being full-time students in good standing, students had to check in at Tailgate Town and attend the game. Theisen was chosen as a finalist and after catching more footballs in a container than another student, won the award.
Cole said in his statement that with higher education becoming more expensive, he is confident the award will aid Theisen in earning a degree. However, he said he is frustrated that in order to increase student attendance at the football game, which was televised, tuition is being given away.
He said scholarships should not be handed out randomly, but should be given to students in need.
“Students who do their best to succeed in the classroom while working two jobs – and still aren't sure their bills will be paid on time,” Cole said. “Students who continue on the path towards earning a degree despite dealing with gut-wrenching hunger because they don't have enough to eat. Students who attend and participate in lectures despite not knowing where they will sleep that night.”
Cole noted that in his address to the Board of Regents on Oct. 13, he said EMU had to begin a “serious dialogue” about how much the university spends on athletics and consider whether that money should be invested elsewhere.
“As budgets get tight, the academic mission of our university cannot suffer to support athletics in this manner; the focus has to be on education first,” Cole said.
Questions to Greg Steiner, assistant athletic director for media relations, were directed to Geoffrey Larcom, executive director of media relations at EMU. Larcom said it is important to note that Theisen is not an athlete at the university and is attending the university, in part, on student loans.
Larcom said general fund dollars were not used in the giveaway. The award came from a private donor.
“[T]he funds do not come from tuition revenues from other students or from our state funding,” Larcom said. “Donor funds are used to support a variety of student aid and scholarships -- most directed entirely at academic support.”
He said EMU has a long-standing commitment to supporting the financial needs of students and pointed to the$54 million in financial aidfor the 2016-17 academic year the Board of Regents approved at its meeting Oct. 13, at 12.9 percent increase over this year’s budget.
Larcom said supporting students financially will remain a “major priority for the [u]niversity.”
“The ultimate result of this fun contest, which, it should be emphasized, drew upon donor funds and not general fund money, is another way to support Eastern Michigan's students,” Larcom said.
Nate Kerffot, a freshman accounting major, said he thought it was cool that the competition was random because “it gives everybody a chance to win.”
Destiny Allen, a senior health administration major, said she doesn’t think the competition was open to everyone because it required attendance. She didn’t have the opportunity to be part of the toss because she had a Thursday night class.
Allen said the fact that the money came from a private donor made her feel like the money should have been given away in a manner that was open to everyone, like an essay contest.
She said a lot of students on campus are in need of scholarships.
“I know a lot of people who had to drop out for not being able to pay for school,” Allen said.
The Board of Regents raised tuition for the 2015-16 academic year 7.8 percent at the end of the last academic year.
“I think it was a good idea because it’s not just based off of academics,” freshman Rhiannon Sommers said.