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Penn State Football: How Much Is a Scholarship Worth?

I’m all for college athletes being able to cash in on their names, images and likenesses.

But I don’t want to discount — or neglect — the compensation that they are already receiving as scholarship athletes.

It’s called a college education, and a full ride is a special thing, even if a Penn State football player’s labor does help bring $100 million a year in revenue and enables their head coach to make at least $17,000 a day.

Forbes reports that, “College graduates can earn hundreds of thousands more than those who don’t attend college.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York puts the wage premium of a college degree at “well over $30,000 a year.” Work 30 or so years, and that’s the million bucks typically touted as the college degree difference.

Getting that degree comes with a cost.

Over the course of four years, counting summer sessions, for a Penn State football player on a full ride, the total value of his educational experience can be approximately $208,000 for an in-state student and $302,000 or an out-of-state student.

It is a package that includes tuition, fees, books and supplies (including an iPad), room and board, plus tax-free cost-of-attendance (COA) money, which is $4,788 for a regular school year. My numbers are based on those available on Penn State’s website and reports submitted to the NCAA by Penn State athletics.

(They actually get a lot more; we’ll cover that laundry list shortly.)

Of course, the recent Alston ruling by the Supreme Court will raise that compensation to an even higher level. The ruling permits schools to pay for a wide array of educational expenses for its athletes – such as computers, software, subscriptions, and perhaps TVs, gaming systems, internships, study abroad trips and anything else that enhances their educational experience.

Then, there’s potentially Pell Grant money as well. In its most recent numbers submitted to the NCAA, 31% (26 of 85) of Penn State’s football players received, on average, $3,831 tax-free to augment their educational expenses, based on their family’s financial situation. Over the course of four years, that is another $15,324.

(Monies players receive for NIL will certainly impact their and their families’ financial situations, including the payment of taxes and a potential drop in Pell support.)


So, the entire package, including Pell Grant and COA, could value the education of a Nittany Lion football player who entered this summer, stays for four years and takes six credits in one summer session a year to over $223,000 for an in-state football player on full scholarship and to over $317,500 for an out-of-state football player.

That’s a pretty good deal.

I ran the math on this 11 years ago, and the tally then was about $144,000 for an in-state football player and $212,000 for an out-of-state football player, both with Pell Grants. There was no COA stipend back then, so that accounts for a bit of the difference. But…the cost of a college education is definitely not getting cheaper.

It is important to note that, unlike at some universities, Penn State athletics is self-sustaining and pays the university back for its players’ tuition, room and board, etc.

So, when Penn State’s Board of Trustees raises tuition (as it did today) and room and board for all students, PSU ICA also takes a financial hit. In 2021-22, that could amount to a one-year increase of $400,000 for Penn State athletics as a whole – or more.

My numbers above assume an annual rate increase of 3.5% over the next four years — very possible since Penn State’s Board of Trustees has approved a 3.45% increase for room and board, and a 2.5% to 2.75% increase for tuition. Those translate to an average increase this school year at University Park of $651 for an in-state student and $1,165 for an out-of-state student— athletes or not. 

In the most recent numbers it submitted to the NCAA for the 2019-20 sports season, Penn State athletics handed out the equivalent of 379 full scholarships — 214 to male athletes (56.35%), 165 (43.5%) to females. In the most recent numbers Penn State athletics submitted to the federal government to show Title IX compliance, Penn State’s undergraduate student population was 53% male and 47% female.


Penn State’ athletes — and, especially, football players — get a lot more than what is listed above.

Right now, a real dollar value is not put on a whole host of extra perks, support and services they receive. But, maybe it is time for college athletics administrators to show what their athletes are getting above and beyond tuition, books and room board – and place a dollar amount on each of those items. This is what many employers do, by showing what their employees’ true overall compensation is, counting insurance, retirement contributions, etc.

You can certainly make a case that the average Power 5 football player on full scholarship – especially at schools like Penn State, Ohio State and Alabama — gets an array of services that over the course of four (or five) years would easily add another $100,000, and maybe even two or three times that, to the value of their education.

I have heard a number of coaches, past and present, say that perhaps scholarship athletes who are now profiting from NIL should be presented with a bill for services rendered, if only to give those athletes greater insight, and maybe appreciation, into what they are getting in terms of goods and services.

Here’s a list of such items, noting that the more complete the list and the higher the quality of services, the more likely that a football player will enhance his skills and be more marketable as a professional football player:

Team and personalized individual coaching and technique tutoring; mentoring, film study.

Athletic training, expert medical support and facilities, rehab services, health insurance.

Strength, speed, flexibility and performance training.

Academic support: tutoring, one-on-one support; priority scheduling; career coaching.

Training table, nutrition bar, snack, nutritionists.

Travel, bowl experiences (and stipend).

Preferred access to mental health professionals and sports performance psychologists.

Apparel, workout clothing, laundry.

Legal and compliance support and direction.

Branding and marketing support, media training, access to photos and videos, professional publicity promotion.

Local, regional and national media exposure, including the Big Ten Conference’s own network.