COMMENTARY | CNN has revealed, in a stunning expose, that there is rampant student illiteracy among NCAA student-athletes, followed by rampant academic dishonesty on the part of college administrators to cover up the fact that many of these scholarship athletes struggle to read above an elementary school level. As a high school teacher, already a skeptic of America’s bloated higher education industry, this only further depresses my outlook for the field of education. As a taxpayer, I am infuriated. And you should be, too.
The widespread violations of NCAA rules on academic eligibility and academic dishonesty should spark outrage across the nation, for many reasons:
First, letting unprepared student-athletes enroll, study, and graduate denigrates the efforts of other students. Many students come to college with difficult challenges to overcome, ranging from poverty to lack of support to personal struggles and disabilities. Why should student-athletes get special treatment while non-athletes have to follow the rules? It is blatantly unfair for a non-athlete to work hard and struggle for years to earn their degree, only to see a student-athlete breeze across the graduation stage after semesters of intermittent attendance and mediocre effort.
Secondly, the unfair advantages given student-athletes undermines the notion of American education as a meritocracy. If you’re good at handling a football or basketball and getting fans to buy season tickets, you’re a first-class citizen. If you’re not, you’re a second-class peon. This is not the purpose of publicly-funded colleges and universities: They are meant to educate, not entertain. They are meant to reward scholarship, effort, and learning, not the ability to raise revenue. This NCAA academics scandal is a slap in the face to every college student, or prospective college student, who was raised to believe that effort and hard work was the key to success.
Third, the scandal denigrates educators. As a teacher, I abhor the fact that this NCAA scandal implies that teaching, learning, and the development of knowledge and skill are insignificant. Allowing student-athletes to “earn” degrees while remaining functionally illiterate tacitly to educators that their job is not important. “We gave __________ a degree, so what? It’ll all work out in the end.” The assumption is that knowledge is not important – only receiving the piece of paper is.
Fourth, it undermines American productivity and wastes taxpayer dollars. Once you start letting college students graduate all willy-nilly the system breaks down. Handing out diplomas like they’re Skittles harms the U.S. economy by churning out underprepared, unmotivated, and poorly socialized workers. And, by oversaturating the market with college degrees, degree-holders who are exemplary workers are often lost in the fray. The salaries offered to degree-holders, even the hardest-working ones, decline and employers struggle to sort out the real graduates from those who were simply handed a diploma so the college’s statistics would look good.
Once a college degree declines in value the value of taxpayer investment in higher education also falls. Taxpayer dollars now go to fund colleges and universities prone to churning out graduates with fewer standards of competence, all in the hope of maintaining good statistics. In an effort to graduate more student-athletes we end up eroding the potency of our higher education system, reducing and weakening standards to the point of irrelevance.