The National Collegiate Athletic Association has begun to craft recommendations to address its newest academic concern: high school diploma mills.
In December, The New York Times told the story of University High School, a Miami high school where students -- and reportedly more than a dozen college athletes -- took teacher-less correspondence courses and boosted their grade point averages enough to be eligible for college athletics.
Before the report, University High was on a list of schools approved by a body called the NCAA Clearinghouse, which helps NCAA members assess the academic credentials of prospective athletes from schools across the country. University High, along with two other high schools, have since been removed. The NCAA’s Working Group to Review Initial-Eligibility Trends, a group of 18 college administrators, faculty members and college sports officials that the association appointed in the wake of the revelations about University High, met for the first time Monday to talk about how to prevent more such schools from slipping through in the future.
The panel has not yet issued concrete guidelines, but has discussed the need for greater scrutiny of institutions, and of students’ course selection. According to Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president for membership services and chair of the working group, one of the first steps will be to identify private high schools that fall outside the authority of any state regulatory body.
Lennon estimated that there are now about 5,000 clearinghouse-approved nontraditional high schools, some of which use online courses, serve home schooled kids, or have flexible schedules to accommodate budding athletes. “The vast majority have a great deal of integrity,” Lennon said. But, in some cases, the NCAA now realizes, when information was gathered to determine clearinghouse approval, “fraudulent information came back from some high schools.”
Diane Dickman, the association's managing director for membership services, said that the NCAA requires that there be “teaching actually occurring, … instruction components and interaction.” Some institutions lied about the nature of any teaching. University High reportedly simply sent students assignments that the students then sent back, sans instructor.
Lennon said more thorough questioning procedures will be developed for high schools, and that “on site visits,” which the NCAA does not currently conduct, “are something the group will consider.”
He also said that the working group wants to take a closer look at individuals’ high school records, with an eye out for students “who had showed little preparation for college in grades 9-11 … and then made ‘miraculous recoveries’ in 12th grade or in a prep school year.” Lennon noted that it should raise flags when a student suddenly picks up 10 classes in three weeks, and added that one of the recommendations may be to limit the number of clearinghouse-required courses that can be completed in 12th grade or beyond. The NCAA may also ask testing services to send scores straight to the clearinghouse.
Students that are currently filling out their requirements with fake classes had better stop as soon as possible. Lennon said that the working group may have guidelines by which to disqualify more high schools by this summer. And, if so, students who got grades from high schools that get crossed of the list will not be able to use those grades for eligibility in the fall.
Lennon said that some of the criteria will be fairly obvious, such as whether an institution charges a flat fee for a diploma. When high schools are disqualified, Lennon added, the NCAA hopes to make it a very public disqualification so athletes know those places won’t help them get eligibility. But still, he said, students have to take some responsibility for their own preparation. “I think it’s important that students themselves evaluate the quality of the courses,” Lennon said, “They know if they’re not taking courses of any academic rigor.”
Athletes currently in college will not be penalized if they took courses at a high school that subsequently loses its clearinghouse approval.
In response to questions, Lennon also noted that the NCAA is not the end all and be all of determining academic preparation. After all, he said, there are those processes at colleges known as “admissions.”
“It’s even more important that admissions processes on campus make their own decision about the student’s readiness for their campus,” Lennon said.
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