Monday, January 22, 2007

Birmingham Southern College: A City on a Hill?

By Jonathan Leirer

Frank Deford has written an article for Sports Illustrated, that was also featured (in audio form) on NPR, discussing a revealing series of events at Birmingham Southern College. While I strongly suggest reading or listening to the article, here are the basics of the story.

Birmingham Southern decided to stop giving athletic scholarships, with perhaps unexpected results: alumni giving increased, as did the number of freshman applications and the percentage of African American undergraduates; and with the money saved, Birmingham Southern can further support its academic goals, as well as offer more sports programs with ultimately a greater number of students participating.

In a previous perspective, I opined on the merits of athletic scholarships. The events at Birmingham Southern College provide evidence, albeit anecdotal, supporting my views. Colleges and universities ought to be in the business of education, a novel idea, I’m sure, but one for which I hold a steadfast resolve; and in their capacity as purveyors of education, it would be both wise and prudent for them to reward and otherwise promote scholastic achievement over athletic achievement. Unfortunately, the system of incentives set up by Colleges and Universities does just the opposite. Before their laudatory efforts, Birmingham Southern College offered “a total of 116 full athletic scholarships, at about $30,000 apiece -- a total of $3.5 million -- while the college awarded, outright, exactly one full academic scholarship.” This hardly seems to be in line with an institution whose primary goal was to provide an education. I would not be surprised to find this perversion of priorities to be less the exception and more the rule.

Still, this is a story of hope. Birmingham Southern, without outside provocation, voluntarily decided to rectify this clash between ideals and operations and is reaping the benefits. Let Birmingham Southern College be a leader, signaling the beginning of a higher education renaissance - to a renewed commitment to scholastics and education.

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