The National Collegiate Athletic Association has a message for would-be college athletes hoping to use online courses to bolster their high school transcripts: Proceed with caution.
The organization announced late last month that it will stop accepting course credit from two virtual schools, based in Utah and Illinois, as part of a move to strengthen high school eligibility standards in Division I.
That means no more high school credit from Brigham Young University’s independent-study program. The school in Provo, Utah, had previously been targeted by NCAA investigators and federal prosecutors pursuing claims of academic fraud involving the University of Missouri, University of Kansas, University of Mississippi, Nicholls State University in Louisiana, and Barton County Community College in Kansas.
Also on the association’s prohibited list is the American School, a correspondence program based in Lansing, Ill.
New NCAA rules require “regular access and interaction” between teachers and students in the 16 core courses that are required to establish initial eligibility for new college athletes.
Courses Need Rigor
The changes don’t affect Division II schools. An oversight panel from that division declined to endorse the proposed change but will consider the measure again this month.
“We want to make sure that student-athletes are qualified for college coursework,” said NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne. “Students cannot teach themselves, and they cannot pace themselves. The courses need to have a certain amount of rigor.”
Such interaction doesn’t have to include face-to-face contact, according to the association. Telephone conversations, e-mail exchanges, and instant messages are also acceptable—provided the student receives specific comments and individual instruction.
The new rules don’t specify a minimum length for online courses. Instead, they require schools to “establish a defined period for completion of the course.”
The changes are effective Aug. 1. Students currently enrolled in the BYU and American School virtual programs can still petition the NCAA for course approval.
A BYU spokeswoman said the school’s independent-study program hopes to work with the association on potential improvements that could land it back on the list of approved online schools.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with the NCAA,” Carri Jenkins said. “We have worked very hard to make our courses as rigorous as any high school course.”
American School’s principal, Marie Limback, called the NCAA’s decision “shortsighted and a misunderstanding of the education we provide.”
“There’s no question about the rigor and level of education we provide,” she said of the 113-year-old school based in suburban Chicago. “It’s a disappointment for distance education.”
At the University of Missouri, the BYU program is best known as the school that provided former Tiger basketball player Ricky Clemons with nine of the 24 summer school credits he needed to enroll as a junior-college transfer in 2002.
While BYU said it found no evidence of cheating on Mr. Clemons’ part, questions about his enrollment and subsequent findings of more than 40 violations led to three years of NCAA probation under former Missouri basketball coach Quin Snyder.
The NCAA’s Mr. Wynne said that other virtual schools could be added to the decertification list.
A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2010 edition of Education Week as NCAA Moves to Bench Two Virtual Schools