From today’s NYT “This Morning” newsletter:
[A]thletics are not the best route to a scholarship for most students, Ron [Lieber, finance columnist and author of the new book, The Price You Pay for College] writes. Academics are. “Each spring, I hear from otherwise well-informed parents of high school seniors who had no idea that this so-called merit aid existed, let alone how to predict where good grades might yield the lowest price or the best value,” Ron told me. “I wanted to make sure that families knew all about it, much sooner.”
A full article is here.
As it happens, Mondoville has built its own enrollment numbers largely through athletics — the majority of our students are members of one varsity squad or another. There are benefits to this, both for the college and the kids (who get to continue playing a sport they love), but there are also problems. When I meet my students, I often ask them why they chose to come here. A disheartening amount of the time, they respond “To play [name of sport.]” And while nearly all our coaches over the years have emphasized academics — something I selected for when I served on an athletic hiring committee — the kids will frequently tell me that their scholarship is ultimately contingent on the coach’s decision, and so the need of the sport will take precedence over things that we on the faculty may ask the kid to do.
I know that on quite a few occasions, I’ve told kids (generally male athletes, rather than women, who tend not to harbor dreams of playing beyond college), “Use the game; don’t let the game use you.” More than a few of them damage their bodies in the athletic pursuits that they see as paying their way through college, but then they’re too busy with the sport to take advantage of the college for which they’re paying.* (Remember, by the way, that Mondoville is an NCAA Division II school, the lowest level with athletic scholarships. Most of those scholarships are partial, many minuscule, but enough for a kid to say he’s here “on an athletic scholarship.” In my time here, four kids have made it to the NFL, and some basketball players have played for money overseas. We’re not a pro sports factory, is what I’m saying.)
How might things be different — both for the kids and for the schools — if the parents who are now pressing footballs and field hockey sticks into their kids’ hands in hope for the future were pushing grades instead? It might be nice to find out.
* In the interest of fairness, I can tell you that there are non-athletic kids who misallocate their passions as well. In particular, I’ve grown accustomed to the phenomenon of music majors or theater kids who are bright, interesting people, but who quit showing up for classes once an ensemble or production picks up. Kids are gonna kid. After all, one of the reasons it took me five years to get that two-year Masters was that I was trying to be a rock star. But I made it to class, even if I was gigging the night before.