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College Athletics, College Admissions, and Ethics

June 19, 2015

Last week the NY Daily News reported that the board of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, the accrediting agency for that region of the country, was placing the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) on probation for one year as a result of the cheating scandals that occurred in its athletic programs over an extended period of time. The AP article summarized the incidents at UNH-CH:

The agency previously opted against punishing UNC-CH, but acted after learning last fall of the scope of fake classes and artificially high grades in one academic department. A report revealed that the fake classes in the African studies department had gone on between 1993 and 2011. About half the 3,100 students who took the classes were athletes.

The scandal came to light when a tutor felt pangs of guilt and leaked the information to the media several years ago. The scandal resulted in several administrators and teachers losing their jobs and also resulted in the college receiving adverse publicity… but UNC-CH avoided sever punishment and commission President Belle Wheelan acknowledged that “… practical effect of the sanction is they just have to send us more documentation to show their compliance with seven of these principles,”

Alas, the “practical effect” of this misdeed mitigates the black eye UNC-CH received as a result of the accreditation agency’s sanction. The athletic championships UNC won gained publicity AND enrollments. As noted in this 2010 article by Kyle Judah in the Journal of Sports Administration and Supervision:

Examining the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who recently won the NCAA Basketball Championship in March of 2009, we can see an increase in number of applications since 2008 by 2,957, or 15%[6]. The UNC Tarheels were featured in 23 nationally televised games[7] over the course of their 2008-2009 season, resulting in approximately 46 hours of live national television coverage and hundreds more on highlights shows like Sportscenter…. This would result in half the new applications, or 1,478 additional applications, generating $103,460 in application fees. According to the University of North Carolina Admissions website, they admitted 32% of applicants, or 473 students, with 54% enrolling, or 255 students. Tuition for an in state student is $17,424, and for out of state students, it costs $35,740 every year[8]. Enrolling 84% in state students[9] would equal 214 in state students paying $3,728,736 and 41 out of state students paying $1,465,340 every year, resulting in $5,194,076 in revenues every year…derived solely from their athletic success.

The article featured a display indicating that winning and NCAA championship yields an increase in applications of 7.5%. Was UNC-CH’s basketball championship won because of the shenanigans in one department? From a business standpoint is it worth $5,000,000 per year to “get caught” for cheating? How much would UNC-CH have to pay to get “...46 hours of national television coverage and hundreds more on news highlights”? I fear that ethical misdeeds are one of the costs of “running schools like a business”.


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