University of Iowa student-athletes may take more online courses

Rule change reflects growth of online learning across nation

(File photo) Kinnick Stadium in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Kinnick Stadium in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa student-athletes, starting next semester, can take the majority of their required courses online.

The UI Presidential Committee on Athletics voted unanimously this week on a policy allowing student-athletes to take only three credit hours per semester in a traditional face-to-face class, reversing a previous policy allowing only one online course per semester.

“I do see this as a step in the right direction,” said JoElla Guagliardo, a UI senior and field hockey player from Deerfield, Ill., at the PCA meeting Thursday in Iowa City. Online courses give student-athletes more options if their practices conflict with face-to-face courses, she said.

Iowa’s public universities saw increases last year in the number of online courses, sections, enrollment and credit hours. Total duplicated online enrollment — which includes the enrollment of all online courses with double counting for students who took more than one online course — was 72,073 for 2015-16, up 10 percent from the previous year, the Iowa Board of Regents reported in February.

Nationally, there were 5.8 million students enrolled in distance education courses, including online courses, through postsecondary institutions in fall 2014, the National Center for Education Statistics reported.

The NCAA requires student-athletes take six credit hours per semester and a total 18 between the fall and spring semesters to remain eligible to compete. But the NCAA doesn’t have any limits for online versus in-person courses.

The athletics committee, which advises and recommends policies to UI President Bruce Harreld and Athletic Director Gary Barta, voted on a policy in 2015 limiting student-athletes to one online course per semester. Students wishing to take more had to get written approval from the athletic department.

But as online learning has become more popular and the UI has added online course requirements for freshmen, the athletic department was approving hundreds of waivers per semester, said Ned Bowden, an associate chemistry professor on the committee.

Despite dropping online course limits, the new policy maintains only UI-taught online courses will count toward degree requirements for eligibility. Waivers must be sought for exceptions to the policy, which will go into effect for spring course registration.

Iowa State University has a similar policy for Cyclone student-athletes.

“Student-athletes cannot be 100 percent online (unless there are extenuating circumstances),” wrote Patrice Ayeni, ISU senior associate athletic director for student services, in an email. “They are required to take at least one in-person course so that they are here on campus.”

The University of Northern Iowa doesn’t let student-athletes take independent study or self-guided courses as part of their credit requirements, but otherwise, there are no written rules for online courses, said Stacia Eggers, UNI associate athletics director for student services.

UI Head Men’s Tennis Coach Ross Wilson, who attended Thursday’s committee meeting, said he supports the decision to allow student-athletes to take more online courses, but he still favors face-to-face classes for his players.

“Personally, I’d rather have them in class than online,” he said.

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