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For Profit Colleges Enter Division 1 Athletics

November 30, 2012

In addition to reading daily blogs by Diane Ravitch, Yves Smith, the ASCD, the NYTimes, CNN, and the Boston Globe, I am an avid fan of Greg Easterbrook, the Tuesday Morning Quarterback who writes a weekly column for ESPN and periodically writes for Atlantic and other magazines and media outlet. Both Easterbrook and Joe Nocera, a NYTimes columnist write frequently about the hypocrisy of the NCAA, the institution that oversees college athletics and presumably ensures that the athletes playing on college teams are bona fide students. For better or worse, today’s NYTimes reports that a for-profit college, Grand Canyon University, is being elevated to a Division 1 status and playing in the Western Athletic Conference indicates that the NCAA isn’t completely hypocritical: it’s in effect acknowledging that graduation rates don’t really matter when it comes to judging an institution any more than those rates matter when it comes to determining whether a university is operating a sound athletic program.

The entry of a for-profit college into major college sports raised questions in the mind of at least one education consultant:

For-profit institutions have been criticized for spending more money on recruiting students and marketing their schools — particularly to draw online students — than actually educating them. A recent study found that more than half of the students who enroll in for-profit institutions leave without a degree, that those students are often left with hefty loans and that taxpayers, in a recent year, spent $32 billion on companies that operate such schools.

“I find it alarming that an institution with questionable academic practices is sort of ingratiating itself into the mainstream of American athletics,” said Barmak Nassirian, an independent consultant on higher education policy, adding, “That traditional, bona fide institutions find it not at all problematic, to be members of the same club, I think is a fair question to ask.”

Easterbrook knows why the question isn’t being asked. This past week he led his column praising Notre Dame for being ranked #1 in football— based on it’s graduation rates for football players as well as its #1 ranking in the nation. At the same time he chided the NCAA and the national media for overlooking this accomplishment. In Easterbook’s ideal  world, if athletic prowess isn’t matched with high graduation rates the school should not be qualified to win any championships. But the NCAA doesn’t place any emphasis on academic prowess and the national media don’t bring academics to the forefront in their reporting to college sports fans.

Interestingly, Arizona would be one of the last places to question academic practices: their flagship college, Arizona University, had only 46% of their football team graduate, among the worst in the country. I doubt that they will be leading the charge to keep their neighboring for-profit on-line institution out of Division 1 based on academic deficiencies.


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