In the 1960s, MLB established the College Scholarship Program, which promised to fund the academic pursuits taken up by players within two years of their retirement from baseball. But, as Mifsud indicated, many players spent that money on for-profit schools, which offered the academic flexibility appealing to professional athletes. Though the Trump administration has proven more sympathetic to for-profit schools, the sector was a frequent target of Obama-era reforms, coming under fire for abysmal job prospects for graduates, predatory recruitment efforts, and less-than-altruistic motives.
During collective bargaining this year, a change was made to the College Scholarship Program (now called the Continuing Education Program) that prohibits players from using the money on for-profit schools with a graduation rate below 50 percent. According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Education, the six-year graduation rate for private, for-profit schools is just 23 percent nationwide. But, Mifsud said, barring players from enrolling in what was a popular academic option left a void MLB needed to fill.
“We're now telling our players, ‘Here’s an avenue we know you’ve been using to get education,’ and we’re telling you you can’t use that anymore,” Mifsud said. “We did not think it appropriate to not offer them an alternative.”
That’s where Northeastern comes in. By partnering with the school, Mifsud said the league is signaling to its players that the university is a good option for them to further their educations. Players will have the chance to select courses from across the university’s academic offerings and earn certificates and degrees based on their prior educational experiences. What appealed to players about for-profit education—namely, flexibility—is also offered at Northeastern, which has campuses across North America as well as various online options. Northeastern President Joseph Aoun said the school is particularly committed to non-traditional learners, and that each player will also have access to a counselor to create a personalized learning plan.
Roughly 30 percent of today’s Major League Baseball players were born outside the United States, and English is certainly not everyone’s first language. In response, Aoun said Northeastern has vast experience working with international students and the school will work directly with non-native speakers to develop personalized learning plans for them, too.
“We are going to work with each player based on where the player is, what the background is, and also the goals and what they would like to study and what they would like to achieve,” Aoun said.
And those academic backgrounds are incredibly varied among ballplayers. Some, like Blackmon of the Rockies, completed their bachelor’s degrees. Many others, however, never stepped foot on a college campus. Unlike their counterparts contending for the NBA or the NFL, baseball players are eligible to be drafted immediately after graduating from high school, and a slew of other players sign professional contracts after their junior years of college. In both cases, the athletes have not earned a postsecondary degree, and Mifsud said they often leverage their remaining college eligibility to snag higher signing bonuses during contract negotiations. The bonus therefore becomes a monetary incentive to forgo higher education, and dugouts fill with athletes at all points on the academic spectrum.