College athletes not smarter than a 5th grader?

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

athlete reading books
Athletes are being let off the hook when it comes to academics, and that sends the wrong message to the college students actually hitting the books.

Mary Willingham, a learning specialist at the University of North Carolina, helps athletes who find themselves overwhelmed by UNC’s academics. Over the years, she has come across several athletes whose reading levels were extremely low, including a basketball player who couldn’t read or write, and another who could barely sound out Wis-con-sin.

According to a CNN investigation, this problem goes far beyond UNC, as quite a few students in basketball and football programs can barely read up to an 8th grade level.

Willingham researched the reading levels of 183 UNC-Chapel Hill athletes from 2004 to 2012, and found that 60% read between 4th and 5th grade levels, while 8-10% are actually below a 3rd grade level!

Not everyone views it as an issue that’s particularly unique to athletes, however. Kevin Lennon, vice president of academic and membership affairs at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), said, “Are there students coming to college underprepared? Sure. They are not just student-athletes.” He blames universities for accepting unqualified students. “Once the school admits them, the school should do everything it can to make sure the student succeeds.”

However, what Lennon doesn’t mention is how much money student athletes are making for schools, since the NCAA admits that about 30 athletes were accepted in 2012 with extremely low SAT scores. CNN found that many student-athletes scored in the 200s and 300s for critical reading, which is an elementary reading level. “It is in many ways immoral for the university to even admit that student,” said Dr. Richard M. Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute and a University of South Carolina professor.

Billy Hawkins, an associate professor at University of Georgia, says colleges are just graduating students even if they don’t deserve it. “They’re graduating them. UGA is graduating No. 2 in the SEC, so they’re able to graduate athletes, but have they learned anything? Are they productive citizens now? That’s a thing I worry about. To get a degree is one thing, to be functional with that degree is totally different.”

Image courtesy of Louisiana State University. Image courtesy of Joliet Junior College