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NCAA and the Nontraditional Course

Monday, June 9, 2014 -- Winnie O'Leary

In the summer of 2010, the NCAA cracked down on what they call “nontraditional” coursework and online credit and credit recovery that allowed students to reduce the length and content of the core programs.

The NCAA has very specific ideas on what an online (and therefore, nontraditional) course should include and what meets its eligibility requirements. That course-approval story begins with a student. High School student athletes can visit the NCAA Eligibility Center website for information on NCAA eligibility and a list of courses. It is here they use their school code on the website and look up eligible courses offered by that school (or virtual academy).  

The NCAA Eligibility Center High School Portal will list all classes offered by the school or program that meet or do not meet the NCAA eligibility expectations. Interestingly enough, the listing does not refer to the content of the courses; it speaks to the school code of the course, meaning the numbers that appear on a student’s transcript. It is here where it gets a little confusing. In order for an athlete to get NCAA credit for a course, the course must be placed on the eligibility list. In order for a district or program to put a nontraditional course on this list, an athlete must present his or her transcript to the NCAA with the nontraditional course identified. 

So it’s the old question of the chicken or the egg. 

The process for a program’s approval begins with:

  • A student athlete submits a transcript with a nontraditional course clearly identified on it to the NCAA. 
  • This sparks a questionnaire that is sent to the school or program that granted the credit. 
  • The school responds to the questionnaire.
  • It is at that this point that the NCAA approves the program that gave the credit or does not. If it does not grant the credit, the school or program can appeal. A student can still take courses to be eligible to play high school sports, but the credit won’t be accepted by the NCAA if the student wished to receive scholarship for college (Division I or II). 

It is critical that a school or district program be set up with the idea of getting NCAA approval and that processes are put into place to give athletes the option to submit a viable transcript, rather than trying to retrofit a program to be NCAA ready.

When it comes to the actual language of the policy regarding nontraditional courses, the NCAA states that these courses must meet specific conditions:

• The course meets all requirements for a core course.
• The instructor and student have ongoing access and regular interaction with one another, including the teacher helping the student.
• The student's exams, papers, and assignments are available for evaluation and validation.
• The student's work is evaluated in keeping with the high school's academic policies.
• The course must be completed in a defined period. While the legislation does not specify a time for completing classes, there must be a defined period of completion assigned to each course.
• Any student could take the course, not just athletes.
• The course appears on the high school transcript.

Creating a program and putting processes in place is the start. After that, the NCAA makes its determination as to whether or not a district program truly meets these requirements. How a program answer the questions in the questionnaire and how that language is perceived determines the eligibility. The NCAA states: "Software-based credit recovery courses are highly individualized and may be customized for each student. Because of this customization, the courses must be reviewed to determine whether they meet NCAA initial-eligibility requirements." 

Remember, the NCAA has been trying to get rid of diploma mills and irresponsible schools and online classes for a long time. The NCAA’s new policy is an admirable concept that has become a challenge for programs that are offering online resources for students working in a 21st century classroom. The NCAA’s high standards for online courses have become an issue for students, especially when you look at the nation where at this moment six states are REQUIRING a student to take a nontraditional course in order to graduate. 

The NCAA Eligibility Center is backing a noble cause here. It is offering opportunity, sometimes to kids who otherwise wouldn't have it. It is easy to understand the rationale for the NCAA making sure our athletes are students who can handle the rigor of college academics; however, the narrow view of what online learning really is causing districts to limit the educational experience of students. 

Ultimately, if a district provides a sound program that is offered to all students, not just athletes, and has the expectations and teacher interaction the NCAA requires, the nontraditional classroom will be another tool in a district’s belt for educating our students.