NCAA Division III: A viable option for student-athletes

Guest post by Justin Sievert, graduate of Union College where he was captain of both the football, and track and field teams.

As the cost of attendance at American colleges and universities has risen over the past decade, one of the most common concerns prospective student-athletes and parents of prospective student-athletes have had is the ability to afford a quality education while participating in collegiate athletics. This concern has led many to dismiss NCAA Division III institutions as options for higher education and collegiate athletics because it is the only NCAA division that prohibits financial-aid awards to student-athletes on the basis of athletics ability and/or participation. Furthermore, NCAA Division III Bylaw 15.4.1(a) states “a member institution shall not consider athletics ability, participation or performance as a criterion in the formulation of the financial-aid package.” The rationale behind this financial-aid policy is two-fold and correlates directly to the Division III Philosophy Statement: (1) to ensure that student-athletes are not treated differently from the general student body; and (2) to direct institutions to integrate their athletics programs into the campus culture and educational mission.

Although Diviison III institutions cannot offer athletic scholarships or use athletics ability and/or participation as consideration for financial-aid, this should not eliminate Division III as a viable and affordable option for prospective student-athletes. Division III institutions can offer financial-aid packages to prospective student-athletes using the need analysis method. NCAA Bylaw 15.4.4 describes the need analysis method as “any need-based assistance to a student-athlete based on methodologies that conform with federal, state and

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written institutional guidelines.” The only caveat is that the established policy of the institution’s financial-aid office must be consistent between student-athletes and students who do not participate in athletics. Further, Division III institutions can offer merit-based scholarships as long as athletics ability and/or participation is not considered in the decision to grant the award or used as a criterion in determining the award. As a result, if you are a prospective student-athlete or a parent of a prospective student-athlete and are currently in the midst of the college or university selection process, Division III institutions should be part of your decision regardless of athletic scholarship opportunities.

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