Below is a sample of the topics and ideas Higher Ed Athletics covers.


NCAA Policies Higher Ed Should Consider Creating


Single-Year APR

The Academic Progress Rate (APR) is a 2-point system to track the retention and academic progress of scholarship student athletes in which teams are graded on a multi-year score. 

Higher education should consider using a single-year APR on all students to track retention and progress towards graduation. 

Institutions could deploy the single-year APR towards each major to quickly analyze how certain students are progressing and identify where potential changes might need to be made.

The NCAA has a searchable institutional and team APR database open to the public. What if Higher Ed had the same database where a simple addition and division math equation could be accessed to see how students in certain majors at certain schools are doing?

Progress Toward Degree Requirements

NCAA division one student athletes must meet credit hour and percentage of degree requirements to maintain eligibility in their sport. Some critics believe this is too strict of a requirement. But the results tell a different story as graduation rates have skyrocketed in division one since the policy reform was implemented in 2001. 

The idea behind PTD is that every class and credit is either counting towards an actual major and degree or it is not. According to Title IV of the Higher Education Act, federal financial aid is only supposed to be applied towards degree-applicable courses and many schools find this a difficult requirement to effectively monitor. 

With the rise of degree tracking software, financial aid offices should consider tracking credits closer to make certain they are staying compliant with federal financial aid rules while also increasing their graduation rate.

Transfer Portal

The NCAA introduced a transfer portal that effectively serves as a database for student athletes to notify their intention of transferring and potentially allowing other institutions to recruit them to their school. Once enrolled, the destination institution inputs their enrollment status in the portal so the athlete no longer appears in the list of students seeking a re-recruitment. 

Higher education does a bad job at tracking transfers in and out of an institution. And the compatibility of credits is also an inefficient process without established transfer articulation agreements.

Creating a higher ed version of the transfer portal would allow the potential transfer student to indicate what type of institution or location they want to attend next. 

But more importantly, the portal could be a way of effectively communicating between institutions and allowing a more efficient recruiting process. The portal could contain official transcripts and potential schools could complete a transfer articulation to show the student how close he or she is to graduation at the prospective institution. 

As crazy of an idea as this seems, HEA covers all the bases to show how certain institutions might adopt their own transfer portal. 

Initial Eligibility Standards and Eligibility Center

A popular topic of discussion about what’s wrong with higher education is the admissions process and lack of transparency in decisions. To create a fair playing field, the NCAA created initial eligibility standards and the Eligibility Center, which is the centralized location for reviewing high school transcripts against those initial eligibility standards.

The NCAA’s standards include a sliding scale of the SAT, ACT and cumulative core GPA. In addition, prospective student athletes have to have  completed 16 core courses that were approved by a high school review committee and maintained in a publicly accessible database of all high schools. 

Higher education, or at least a consortium of institutions, should consider following the NCAA’s lead and taking advantage of the significant leg work already put forth by the NCAA. While the initial eligibility standards are separate from admissions, they involve all of the same information submitted to admissions offices. HEA will clearly show how NCAA initial eligibility is the most efficient and research-driven approach to a fair and functional admissions process. 

What College Athletics Could Learn From Higher Education


The “Red House” at Georgetown

The “Red House” at Georgetown is quite literally a small red house that sits on the edge of the Washington D.C. campus. Inside that red house is a group of students, faculty and staff looking to design the future of their institution on every level. 

Vice Provost Randy Bass, when discussing the importance of Georgetown’s red house: “How do we continue to shape a transformative education that is responsive to our time, that is equitable, affordable, and financially sustainable? We can’t meet all of those goals without innovation, without changing some of the ways we do business.”

The original idea behind Higher Ed Athletics was largely inspired by a visit to Georgetown and seeing the red house in person. Based in Indianapolis near the NCAA headquarters, HEA is continually looking at the future of the NCAA in a time where serious change is on the horizon. Design-thinking the NCAA is a constant theme of HEA 2020 and beyond.

Income Share Agreements

An income share agreement is a new form of financial assistance where the institution, in some financial structure of investment, provides money to a student where the recipient then agrees to pay back a percentage of their income for a set number of years. The idea of an ISA as a way to fund the financial gap in a student’s cost of attendance became popular in the last few years with the launch of Purdue University’s “Back a Boiler” ISA. 

What if the NCAA or athletic conferences created income share agreements whereas athletes in equivalency scholarship sports and walk-ons could borrow against? This would incentivize the leaders of the NCAA to continually focus on degree completion and monitor job placement. Athletes that are not on full scholarship would have the opportunity to fill their financial needs without the risk of private student loans.

HEA analyzes existing income share agreements and demonstrates how an ISA could possibly work at both the national and regional levels with the NCAA and conferences, respectfully. 

Corporate Tuition Partnerships

Starbucks and Uber have partnered with Arizona State University to allow their employees access to free tuition for one of ASU’s fully online degree programs. HEA reviews the idea and legality of schools or conferences providing scholarships for fully online degree programs for current or former college athletes.

there could be a new recruiting arms race coming that includes scholarships for additional undergraduate or graduate degrees. What if the PAC 12 decided to offer ASU online master’s programs in their scholarship packages as a way to out-recruit other conferences for top high school prospects? HEA provides an analysis of these corporate partnerships for degrees to see how they work and what high profile institutions or conferences are most likely to fund this type of investment.

Fully Online Degrees

When it was discovered that two of the 2019 heisman finalists, including the winner, were only enrolled in online classes people balked at high profile athletes not sitting in a lecture hall with their peers. But the reality is that higher education has been shifting towards fully online degrees for years now to cater to a busy workforce that has grown up with the internet. And college athletes are busy.

New online degrees typically run on different operating systems than traditional degree programs. Unfortunately, the NCAA defines programs like these as non-traditional and have specific rules that prohibit student athletes from pursuing them. HEA examines considerations for providing athletes access to these programs while also safeguarding against potential academic misconduct. 

University Innovation Alliance

Built as a cluster of 11 large public universities, all of which are NCAA division one institutions, the UIA is considered the leader in higher ed when it comes to widespread innovative projects. The UIA has created a productive work stream for innovating and scaling their projects by having host schools design-think the problem from concept to implementation. Afterwards, the UIA distributes the instruction manual to all interested schools in the alliance.

The UIA is structured somewhat like an athletic conference minus the geographic footprint. Perhaps NCAA colleges and universities could develop relationships with athletic departments they identify with and that are facing similar challenges. Think of it as joining an affiliate athletic conference but for non-competitive strategic planning instead of focusing on beating each other in a sport. HEA maps out what this relationship or work stream might look like and discuss the problems each division one subdivision will likely face in the decade ahead. 

Insightful Reports


What Would Free Public College do to the NCAA?

As the 2020 Presidential election nears, a popular democratic policy area is the idea of free public higher education. While free public college sounds completely free, it’s important to note this would only apply towards tuition, not fees or room and board. 

The proposed plans by presidential candidates and congress would only apply to public colleges and the NCAA is a mix of public and private institutions, which could cause concerns over competitive advantages in recruiting.

Could division one keep some competitive fairness? Would division two membership change its scholarship and financial aid models to reflect current division three rules? Would division three institutions, with the majority being small private colleges, even survive? HEA looks at what a free public college environment would look like for intercollegiate athletics and NCAA policies at each of the three divisions. 

Is the Size of Division 1 Membership a Bubble?

It seems there is constant planning and feasibility studies for D2 institutions looking at reclassifying to D1. Even a D3 school has recently applied for a waiver to jump straight to D1. This is clearly a result of intercollegiate athletics continuing to be seen as the front porch of an institution by the leadership.

The trend of using NCAA division one status for prestige marketability and enrollment growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As American higher education continues to struggle attracting traditional college students out of high school there will likely be more presidents and boards of trustees looking to court a conference. 

HEA takes a deep dive to see if NCAA division one membership is a bubble ready to burst and what division two might be able to do to offer similar institutional results and sustain its membership. Before paying six or seven figures for a division one feasibility study, HEA members will have access to a detailed and in-depth report.

Should the NCAA Use Pollsters to Guide Decision-Making?

The NCAA is infamous for its working groups, where they leverage their large pool of institutional thought leaders and experts to solve a problem. The Department of Education uses a similar method called negotiated rulemaking.

But another popular tool for measuring opinions on important topics is through the use of campaign pollsters. These are individuals that not only ask questions by way of polling, but they are also involved in analyzing the results to provide the most efficient feedback to their respective campaign. 

What if the NCAA (or HEA) did the same to provide more quality information to these working groups and council committees? Higher Ed Athletics is excited to release a sample of what polling might look like on important NCAA issues.