See jocks run — but not read

Some college athletes play like adults, but read like 5th-graders, reports Sara Ganim for CNN. Tutors help them, as long as they can play.  Then they drop out or graduate with a degree they still can’t read.

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 60 percent of football and basketball players admitted in 2004 to 2012 read at the fourth- to eighth-grade level, reports Mary Willingham, a former tutor for the athletic department.  Eight to 10 percent read below a third-grade level, according to her research.

Some were enrolled in “laughably lax” African-American Studies classes. Professor Julius Nyang’oro now faces fraud charges: He was paid $12,000 to teach a class that never met. 

It’s not just UNC, Ganim writes. About 10 percent of University of Oklahoma athletes in revenue-generating sports read below a fourth-grade level, according to Oklahoma Professor Gerald Gurney.

At most schools, seven to 18 percent of football and basketball players read at an elementary level, a CNN investigation concluded.

Intensive tutoring can close the gap by junior year, said Robert Stacey, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington.

Former and current academic advisers, tutors and professors say it’s nearly impossible to jump from an elementary to a college reading level while juggling a hectic schedule as an NCAA athlete. They say the NCAA graduation rates are flawed because they don’t reflect when a student is being helped too much by academic support.

“They’re pushing them through,” said Billy Hawkins, an associate professor and athlete mentor at the University of Georgia. ”They’re graduating them. UGA is graduating No. 2 in the SEC, so they’re able to graduate athletes, but have they learned anything? . . . To get a degree is one thing, to be functional with that degree is totally different.”

Some universities refused to cooperate with CNN, but others provided more details on football and basketball players’ SAT or ACT scores and other data.

Many black male athletes end up with no degree and few job prospects, writes Isiah Thomas, a former pro basketball player now working on a master’s in education at Berkeley. “Only 65 percent of African American basketball student-athletes graduated in 2013,” writes Thomas and co-author Na’ilah Suad Nasir, an associate professor of African American Studies and Education.  Berkeley’s graduation rate for black male basketball players in 2013 was 33 percent.

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