Sports Scholarships vs. Diversity

Foreign students have attended US campuses for decades. Despite the benefit of them returning home with needed skills, and the pluses from such cross-cultural exchanges, their presence in the US can be controversial. One concern is that they take seats away from US kids. Another is that they join overseas companies that are competing with US firms.

That same kind of worry, with an athletic twist, applies to a growing trend: More foreign students are taking a bite out of the nearly $1 billion spent annually on sports scholarships. (See story.) Is this fair if an American, whose only ticket to college is a sports scholarship, gets cut? And what about US-trained foreign athletes competing in the Olympics for their home country?

A college defines itself by the makeup of its student body. Taxpayers, alumni, faculty, and other stakeholders in a school will have their own preferences on the number of foreign students admitted. In the incredibly rich mix of American higher ed, no simple formula exists. Once an academic threshold for admittance is established, admissions becomes as much an art as a science.

Whether the same criteria for a math genius from India attending MIT should apply to an Australian hoopster who plays for Georgia Tech is an institution-specific decision. Each student fills a special niche in a learning community with a unique background that rubs off on other students.

What is critical with any sports scholarship is that it be given to an athlete - foreign or home-grown - who probably will complete a meaningful four-year degree. This mission of higher education must not be compromised.

Fielding educated students is far more important than winning games.

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