The New York Times’ Pete Thamel and Duff Wilson deserve congratulations for Sunday’s runaway top story, the saga of University High, a correspondence school that for the miserly sum of $399, has helped many GPA-challenged student athletes gain scholarships with Division 1 schools.
University High, which has no classes and no educational accreditation, appears to have offered the players little more than a speedy academic makeover.
The school’s program illustrates that even as the N.C.A.A. presses for academic reforms, its loopholes are quickly recognized and exploited.
Athletes who graduated from University High acknowledged that they learned little there, but were grateful that it enabled them to qualify for college scholarships.
Lorenzo Ferguson, a second-year defensive back at Auburn, said he left Miami Southridge High School for University High, where after one month he had raised his average to 2.6 from 2.0.
“You take each course you failed in ninth or 10th grade,” he said. “If it was applied math, you do them on the packets they give you. It didn’t take that long. The answers were basically in the book.”
The N.C.A.A. has allowed students to use correspondence school courses to meet eligibility requirements since 2000. That year, the N.C.A.A. also shifted the power to determine which classes count as core courses to high school administrators. In doing so, it essentially left schools to determine their own legitimacy.
“We’re not the educational accreditation police,” Diane Dickman, the N.C.A.A.’s managing director for membership services, said in September.
The man who founded University High School and owned it until last year, Stanley J. Simmons, served 10 months in a federal prison camp from 1989 to 1990 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud for his involvement with a college diploma mill in Arizona. Among the activities Simmons acknowledged in court documents were awarding degrees without academic achievement and awarding degrees based on studies he was unqualified to evaluate.
In interviews last week, he said he should never have pleaded guilty and that he operated legitimate correspondence schools for adults.
In 2004, Simmons sold University High to Michael R. Kinney, its director. Kinney, 27, who was arrested on a marijuana possession charge in 2003 and is wanted on a bench warrant, declined to comment, despite requests by phone, fax and visits to his apartment.
Several University High graduates said they found the school through Antron Wright, a former XFL and Arena Football League player who is prominent in Miami’s high school athletic circles. He is considered a savior by some players, but one principal has barred Wright from his building for luring athletes to a rival school and introducing them to University High.