Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

True Test: NCAA Questions Quality of Correspondence Courses, Integrity of Exams

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

True Test: NCAA Questions Quality of Correspondence Courses, Integrity of Exams

Article excerpt

True Test: NCAA Questions Quality of Correspondence Courses, Integrity. of Exams

by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Athletes struggling to meet academic requirements for playing sports at four-year institutions often seek to boost their performance in the classroom by way of community colleges. But some higher education and sports officials warn that an increasing number of student-athletes are padding their transcripts with correspondence courses to improve their transfer chances.

Although some institutions offer legitimate courses through correspondence, others adhere to questionable standards, have loose procedures and allow students too much leeway in choosing proctors for exams, according to Dr. Robert E. Sweazey, vice provost for research at Texas Tech University.

"Quite frankly, from my perspective, correspondence courses, and even some courses taken through the community colleges, are not of the quality that we're accustomed to. Therefore, I'm skeptical of them," said Sweazey, who is also chairman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's eligibility committee. The availability of the courses, however, is appealing to many students, Sweazey said, especially when courses are not available, or it is difficult to fit core courses into a schedule.

"It eases scheduling difficulties and does allow you to graduate on time, and to pick up more hours," he said.

But a recent NCAA investigation of the basketball team at Baylor University questioned, among other things, the integrity of correspondence courses taken by four players who transferred from two-year institutions. Baylor officials did not allow the athletes to play last fall after questions arose over how much work the students did to earn grades in those courses, according to a university spokesman. The university recently received a 500-page report documenting the findings of the investigation and has 30 days to respond. The NCAA has not released the report to the public.

Big Problem

"Traditionally it's a big problem. The most recent case had to do with a small, parochial school in Florida that offered a lot of correspondence courses," Sweazey said. "The student-athletes were getting A's and not doing the work.... The tests that were given and the textbooks checked out O.K., but it was obvious the students hadn't taken the course."

The institution, Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland, a four-year college accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges (SACSCC), sells approximately 2,200 correspondence courses each year. While the courses are geared toward older students, "a number of college coaches have requested information concerning" the correspondence classes, said Margaret Y. Hennesy, director of alumni activities and college relations.

The college has stiffened its requirements for taking the course exams since last fall, Hennesy said. Students must have proctors while taking the exams. Each proctor must be a member of the clergy, a military officer, a public school official or personnel from the dean's office, the registrar or testing center at the college where the student is enrolled.

"The ultimate integrity lies with the proctor," Hennesy said.

Hennesy defended continuing studies at Southeastern and said the fault was not in the program, but in the intentions of the students taking the courses.

"I do know that a number of junior college students have taken our courses relative to meeting their requirements for transferring to a four-year school," she said. "If Southeastern's correspondence program can be faulted in this area as it relates to athletics, it would be because we were completely naive regarding the lengths to which athletes and coaches will go to make players eligible."

Quick and Easy

Correspondence courses are well-known among some coaches as a source for bringing student-athletes up to par with eligibility requirements quickly and easily. …

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