Student Well-Being

NCAA To Accept More Nontraditional Core High School Courses

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — February 09, 2000 3 min read
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Acknowledging that some of its requirements for gauging the academic eligibility of prospective college athletes do not reflect curriculum and instructional trends in U.S. high schools, the ncaa has agreed to expand its view of which courses meet the standards for participation in college sports.

The changes approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association last month come after a four-year battle by the organization’s critics, including school counselors and parents who became frustrated by what they claimed were unfair and arbitrary standards. Those standards, they said, represented an inappropriate intrusion by the NCAA into curriculum and policy matters. Moreover, they said, the process excluded hundreds of students who were both academically and athletically qualified to compete.

“The NCAA has finally stepped back and accepted the recommendations of a broad grassroots ... group of parents and teachers all over the country that said this is wrong,” said Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota, who has helped organize the protest against NCAA policies.

At issue was the range of courses considered acceptable for fulfilling the NCAA’s requirement that student athletes complete 13 core academic courses in high school: four years of English, two years of mathematics, two years of science, two years of social science, two years of foreign language, plus another English, math, or science course.

The regulations were instituted in 1996 to help ensure that high school students were ready for the academic regimen of college and not just there for their athletic prowess. Since then, classes that are interdisciplinary, do not carry traditional course titles, such as English 1, or that are part of independent- study and accelerated programs, distance education, or home schooling have generally not been approved, regardless of their rigor. (“Reform Leaders Decry NCAA Requirements,” Jan. 21, 1998.)

Revisions Inadequate

The Overland Park, Kan.-based NCAA, which governs intercollegiate sports, revised the course requirements in 1997 amid complaints that they thwarted school improvement efforts. But critics complained that the new plan was also fraught with problems.

Although 91,000 eligibility applications were approved for this school year, dozens of top students—including a National Merit semifinalist and a student who obtained a perfect score on the ACT college-entrance exam—and many more with average academic performance were prohibited from participating in sports in their freshman year in college.

Under the new guidelines—which will take effect for students entering college next fall—credits from nontraditional classes that are considered college-preparatory will generally be accepted. The NCAA also rescinded its rule that 75 percent of a particular course be devoted to traditional academic content for the subject area.

“We are still after the same principles of trying to assure that prospective student athletes are prepared to deal with the academic and athletic requirements of college,” said NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski.

While the NCAA’S announcement came as good news to proponents of the changes, some critics are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

“We’ve been through this before. Every year, they say they’ve made changes to fix problems, and every year, problems continue to crop up,” said David Griffith, the director of government and public relations for the National Association of State Boards of Education, one of several education groups that have lobbied for the changes. “I’m a bit wary of their claims that things have been resolved.”

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A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2000 edition of Education Week as NCAA To Accept More Nontraditional Core High School Courses


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