Should student athletes get school credit?
This question came to me when Texas decided to give more high school credit for students who are in sports. They originally were only able to get two credits (two years of participation) but they were pushing for four. Their practices ran during the school day so it fills in as a class and fulfills a Physical Education requirement and any credit passed fulfills elective credits.
The first reaction of mine was probably similar to yours and certainly was that of most of academia, “You have to be kidding me!”
This is down in Texas where high school football is king. Anyone who has read H.G. Bissinger’s book “Friday Night Lights” knows priorities down there are sometimes out of line.
That was my gut instinct. I am one of the first to admit that sports tend to run away from us at times and we lose sight of why colleges exist; to educate students. With athletic departments at Bowl Championship Series schools spending money like it won’t be worth anything tomorrow, it’s easy to have the gut reaction to fight back against such an obvious slap in the face of higher education.
But then I thought about it more. Maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea after all. Paging through my Carroll College Course Catalog (I have one of the older books that still says Carroll College, not Carroll University) I saw the opportunity to earn college credit for being in a theatrical play whether that be acting on stage or being part of the light and sound crew or even being in make-up. There was college credit opportunity for music students to play any of a large assortment of instruments. There was (though not any more) the opportunity to receive college credit for working on the student newspaper.
All of these are great learning experiences but are they integral to the chosen field of study? Certainly it is if you are majoring in music or journalism, but these courses are available to anyone to take. If I’m majoring in biology is it really important for my degree that I know how to play the saxophone? Should an education major be given course credit for putting make-up on an actor? Does it benefit a nursing major academically if she plays tennis?
The question I came to is: what makes theatre or music so different that it warrants acceptance as college credit, but not athletics? The answer, as I see it, is not a whole lot, especially at a liberal arts school like Carroll.
Liberal arts schools proclaim to be a place to develop mind, body and soul. We are required to take standard college classes, seven of which are in seven different disciplines (fine arts being one of them) but nothing in physical activity. Looking back at old yearbooks of Carroll College there was mention of required physical education classes. This is more along the lines of what I would expect to see if a school truly made a commitment to mind, body and soul. If you were on an athletic team you could get out of physical education with participating in your sport being enough to fulfill that requirement.
I wouldn’t even need to see it as a requirement. Being in a play or playing music, or being in a choir wasn’t a requirement. But it was a way to follow your passion and earn some college credit for it since there are definitely lessons you can learn from it. But you can certainly learn lessons from being on an athletic team too. Ask any athlete, either current or former, and they will tell you that athletics made them a more rounded person and taught them lessons they didn’t learn in the classroom or, at the very least, fortified ones they did learn in the classroom.
I learned better time management, how to work as part of a team, how to lead and basic navigational skills as we left for a conference road trip. I learned how to sacrifice for a greater goal and compassion for an injured teammate or rival. All of these are things a well rounded person should know. And liberal arts colleges claim they are developing well-rounded people. So why aren’t they encouraging or at least acknowledging the lessons learned by student-athletes. I’m not asking for a lot of credit, maybe one or possibly two for each year in a sport, and purely elective credits that don’t count toward major or minor requirements. Just something that notes that athletics is valuable in higher education.