Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Getting on My Soap Box

Ohio State Graduation: Lots of empty seats

I just can't get past this little statistic I saw on today about the abysmally low graduation rate for athletes at Ohio State.

What we never learn is what the heck happens to all those kids who don't graduate and don't go on to pro sports? How good could their futures possibly be? How many of them could have gone to other colleges where academics were really valued for everyone, while still getting a chance to play big-time sports? How can we get this message out to more of our young athletes BEFORE they leave high school?

Let me be the bearer of bad news to the thousands of high school football and basketball "stars" out there. You almost have as good a chance of winning the lottery than making the NFL.

Let's do the math: there are 119 major Division I college football programs with approximately 130-140 players on each of their rosters. That's a total of more than 16,600 players. Assuming that a quarter of them are seniors, we're looking at about 4,200 young men trying to squeeze into a pro league that usually only takes about 300 new players from the college ranks each year. But some of those 300 players, about two dozen or so, come from smaller programs including the Division formerly known as IAA.

So if you're a high school athlete and you're lucky enough to be recruited by a college program, and you make the team, and you become a good player, you're still looking at only a 6% chance of making the NFL.

In other words, it's near impossible and you'd better have a plan B. Actually, the NFL should be your plan B, even if you're going to Florida State. Plan A needs to be your education and your non-sports career.

If you're a high school player with decent enough grades to get into an Ivy, you will have a much better chance of making the team and starting once you're there. You can still make the NFL, but the chances of hooking yourself up with a good job after graduation are much, much better than 6%. In fact, a star Ivy football player has to go a long way to piss potential employers off before he messes up his chances that badly.

I realize one key stumbling block is the money up front. A lot of parents understandably balk at the huge loans most of them will have to take out to pay the Ivy tuition when a free ride offer is on the table too. I happen to think tuition is out of control, so I'm not defending the costs, but the average focused Ivy graduate will be able to pay back that loan and then some in what will seem like a short time in the long run, (most of my Columbia friends are high-earners and they rolled whatever was left of their student loans into their mortgages to take advantage of lower rates and get a bigger tax break).

If you're cocky enough to believe you can make it in the NFL, then coming out of an Ivy won't hurt you as much as getting lost in the shuffle at a big D-I school will hurt your chances of having a successful career. And don't even think about taking your chances as a non-college graduate out there, unless you're a genius web page designer or a damned good entrepreneur with financing.

The other stumbling block is the academics. I'm no snob when it comes to the Ivy education; I think a lot of students can hack the coursework and succeed once they get in. The trouble is that it's getting so hard to get in, that my theory is impossible to prove. Athletes are getting a great chance to access what would otherwise be inaccessible, and in return they give Ivy college students and alums a social and recreational outlet we otherwise wouldn't have. And when you realize that so many of the athletes are actually ADDING something to the academic quality of their schools, then you see that everybody wins.

And if your kid really is the real deal athletically, there's an argument to be made that he will get an even BETTER chance to make it in pro sports because the national media attention for a superstar Ivy athlete is much greater than the average top-notch player in a bigger league. Lots of sports fans know recent Brown grad and current NY Giant Zak DeOssie, but the dozens of other players at his skill level are basically anonymous.

My message to parents of top-notch high school athletes with good study skills is this: consider the Ivies. The price tag is high, but there's no getting around the fact that your kid will have a 99% chance of graduating from one of the schools that continue to churn out our nation's business, cultural, and political leaders. Yes, the cost will be high, but consider that with the free education your child is being offered at a big sports factory, there's a good chance you'll be getting what you pay for. Even at great academic non-Ivies like Michigan, Virginia, and Stanford, there are "athlete-track" courses and majors that are far less challenging than the average student's course load. Employers know this, and while playing for the "ol' big Sports U." might get your kid an offer to work at the local car dealership or real estate office, there is so much more to choose from for Ivy grads.

Ivy grads, even from schools with relatively little football and basketball success, have unique access to top brokerage firms, hedge funds, and other financial powerhouses. The other professions are not as well represented, but there are still connections to take advantage of in the best law firms, medical schools, and corporations. And each and every one of those employers knows that your kid passed the gauntlet of fire that is being an athlete in a demanding Ivy school where no one gets much of a break once they get in.

Straddling your kid, (or yourselves), with tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get there is basically worth it. Most rich kids and their parents would be more than happy to shell out that kind of dough to get in to an Ivy... and they'd still be rejected.

If you're worried that your kid just doesn't have the work ethic to make in the Ivy classrooms, think again. He's already showing a real work ethic by being a top high school athlete. If he doesn't do the same in the classroom, then it's time for some "tough love." Get him a tutor, study for those SAT's and make sure your child puts the same effort into his studies. It just might work.

Ivy athletes have an unprecedented rate of success when compared to any other kind of alumni from Ivy or non-Ivy schools. Don't let a little sticker shock scare you away.

And now... some comic relief

Okay, enough serious stuff, for some quick comic relief, read this great story about former Harvard soccer great Shep Messing. He's done it all.

And if you want some comic relief of a longer variety, check this story out about a hapless Columbia freshman crew team member back in the late 1950's. He was in the so-called "pickle boat."

And here's a picture of Columbia great Lou Kusserow that you can buy on eBay. It's a rarely clear picture.


At Wed Jul 11, 09:20:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The D1 coaches are by and large tyrants who couldn't care less about anything other than getting their players to suit up. Remember when the great Robert Smith told the Ohio State coaches that he wanted to be a pre med and they told him no? right now over 70% of the NFL is African American, and ghetto kids are sold a bill of goods when they are recruited about how many players from a given school have made it into the NFL. They aren't told that the average career is 3.6 years (and there is no pension for less than 5 years of service). Nor are they told about the abysmal graduation rates, the pulling of scholarships, etc. Unless you are literally a can't miss prospect, if you can get into an Ivy you really have to grab the chance.

At Wed Jul 11, 10:45:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see an expected return analysis for a HS recruit trying to choose between accepting a scholarship offer at a D-1 power conference school vs. accepting an offer to play at an Ivy League school. I would guess that even if you assumed an abnormally high rate of success in the NFL, you would still see a much higher expected return for the Ivy League over the course of even 5 years post college. If I were an Ivy League coach, I would include such an analysis in every recruiting package I sent out to prospects.

At Thu Jul 12, 12:08:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake: WHERE ON EARTH did you come with $240K in debt for an Ivy League education? That is totally wrong and highly misleading.

While the eight Ivy schools each have slightly different policies on loans and self-help, the general rule is that after a determination of what the family and student can contribute is made, the shortfall is supplied by the school as a grant.

I have very recently sent two kids to Ivy schools and found the system works as advertised--a lot of grant money is made available, even to families with $100K family income, depending on their overall savings and circumstances.

At Columbia the amount of loan the student is expected to assume is about $4K to $5K per year for a total loan of $20K or less after four years.

For the family contribution, which is determined by what the parents can afford to pay, parents can either pay as they go or take out a PLUS loan if they want to spread it out.

As you know, some of the Ivies are eliminating student loans for famlies below certain income levels--so some kids now don't have any student loans when they graduate. Kids and parents from low or middle income homes pay a small fraction of the total cost of an Ivy education. As I said, even families with more than $100K in family income can and do receive significant grant awards.

In any case, if the student has any debt, it's no more than $20K. Both of my kids graduated with about $18K in debt each--a very reasonable amount.

I agree totally with your premise that an Ivy League education should be pursued over a full scholarship from a Division I program. The argument is even more persuasive when you consider that the actual cost of an Ivy education to non-wealthy families is far less than the stated tuition room and board charges. I hope you correct your article.

At Thu Jul 12, 12:25:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

You're right I should clarify. I was referring to "sticker shock" specifically as parents hear about $40k+ tuitions, then factor in all the other and come up with a fugure like $240k. But I will fix that to be more clear.

The tuitions are absolutely more negotiable than most people would think. BUT I still think they are out of control of institutional overspending and some greed.

At Thu Jul 12, 02:16:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From first hand experience i would like to back up Jake, because there is absolutely no way the debt after 4 years is always below 20K (or even close) as the previous post suggests. However what you get in return will help pay the debt off much faster than you could imagine, lets just not lie to ourselves here, because obviously everyone's situation is different and you shouldn't just tell people they will have less than 20k in debt when i know personally that is not true, well for everyone at least.

At Thu Jul 12, 04:08:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are a student on financial aid at Columbia, work during the term 10 to 15 hours per week, live at home during the summer and save most of your summer earnings for the school year, and spend moderately, you the student can have an exciting four years enjoying everything Columbia and NYC offers and come out of school with $20K in debt.

For new students entering this fall, perhaps there is some loan creep along with the increase in tuition, but it will be on the margin.

Whether your parents choose to pay their contribution out of pocket or take out a PLUS loan is a different issue.

Some students may wish to lead a richer lifestyle in college and take out more than $20K in loans (for study abroad or to take a non-paying summer internship or to live in NYC for the summer and pay rent)...but I guarantee they don't need to borrow more than $20K based on the financial aid packages that Columbia puts together.

The competition in Ivy financial aid is to reduce the student's loan burden even further. Not all of the schools can afford to reduce the student loan component, but that's what Columbia's going to try to do too.

When the Kluge bequest comes in (and may Mr. Kluge live to be 100) Columbia will be able to do even better.

And regarding Jake's complaint about tuition costs...Is tuition really out of line at $35.5K for 2007-08 at Columbia? An Acura MDX SUV costs $40K. I think the tuition is most certainly not out of line for what you get.

And don't count room and board--for one, your kid needs to eat and sleep somewhere, and two, Columbia room and board is a fair deal compared to the cost of living and eating in Manhattan in general.

So I don't think Ivy League tuitions are out of line, whether you are paying the entire amount or whether you are one of the numerous undergraduates on financial aid.


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