How the University of Alabama Became a National Player

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

How did the University of Alabama became a national player?

The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.

The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27.

Each year, about 18 percent of freshmen leave their home state for college in another. They tend to be the best prepared academically and most able to pay, said Thomas G. Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, who tracks this data. Achieving students are likely to be bound for successful lives, enhancing their alma mater’s status and, the hope is, filling its coffers with donations. Schools want them.

Merit aid given to achievers has a magnetic effect. “If we recruit five students from a high school, we will get 10 students the next year and they may not all be scholarship students,” said Stuart R. Bell, president of the University of Alabama.

Instead of layoffs and cuts, some public universities facing budget challenges are following this blueprint for survival: higher charges to students, and more of them. Nowadays, the real money comes from tuition and fees. The average for four-year public colleges rose 81 percent in constant dollars between 2000 and 2014. At Alabama, tuition and fees have about doubled in the last decade, to $10,470 for residents and to $26,950 for nonresidents.

Even when it awards full-tuition scholarships, the university makes money — on dorm rooms and meal plans, books, football tickets, hoodies and school spirit items like the giant Bama banner Ms. Zavilowitz and her roommates bought for the blank wall in the suite’s common area. All told, these extras and essentials brought in $173 million last year — on top of $633 million in tuition and fees, up from $135 million in 2005.

“I hate very much to use this analogy, but it’s like running a business,” Dr. Whitaker said.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The Iron Law of Collegiate Ranking is that colleges and universities are judged by the research productivity of their faculties. Research grant monies, papers in prestigious journals, service on major national and international committees and Ph. D. candidates advised to completion are what counts, and in that order. Selective admissions and recruiting nationally are important, but they are secondary.

  2. Bjorn Axehead says:

    They really needed to do something. The school was becoming a degree mill with a football team. Top quarter of students with a 31 or higher ACT is impressive, even if the test has been dumbed down. Next, steadily upgrade the faculty and clip off the bottom quarter. Then clip it off again.

    Take a guess at what the average ACT is of an incoming freshman at Grambling State, a well-know historically black college.

  3. Sam J. says:

    My Father went to a speech by the President of the University of Alabama and the whole speech was about what the were building. Not a word about education. They’re building wide open. They force the undergrads to live in the school housing.I

    In defense of the football team, which I could care less about, they are a huge money maker. I used to think that it was obscene to pay the coaches so much more than the teachers until I listened to Paul Finebaum explain how the coaches’ pay could be recouped in as little as a year by a winning team. It’s really extraordinary amounts of money but you have to win.

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