More woes for community college football in northern Minnesota

Here’s the news from International Falls. My analysis is below.

RRCC ends football program; Provost cites college’s
loan default rate as reason
By LISA KACZKE, International Falls Daily Journal

The football program at Rainy River Community College has been terminated.

Provost Wayne Merrell said Monday that the termination is related to the fact that RRCC had the highest loan default rate in the country. The majority of the defaulters were on the football roster during the most recent reporting time frame.

RRCC’s default loan rate for 2005, the latest year of data, was 31.1 percent, according to Merrell. The college’s rate was 16 percent in 2004 and 11 percent in 2003.

If the default trend were to continue, RRCC would no longer be eligible to provide student loans, called Department of Education Title IV funds, to any students, according to Merrell.

If an institution’s loan default rate reaches 40 percent in any year or if its rate is above 24 percent for three consecutive years, the institution is no longer eligible to distribute Title IV funds.

Merrell said he received the notice from the Department of Education about the college’s default loan rate two months ago. Since then, he has discussed the issue with U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar’s staff, state legislators representing the area, and the loan providers.

“There was no other way to save the program,” Merrell said.

A question about the program’s status was answered in December 2006 when Merrell decided to keep the program at RRCC in response to support for it from about 130 people who attended a forum on the future of the program.

RRCC’s football program has come under criticism in the past for the players’ academic performance. Merrell said the criticism did not influence his decision to cancel the program.

The college began several new initiatives for the 2007-08 school year, including intervention strategies, to help the players academically. Football head coach Tim Myles also had his players sign a contract. At least 14 players from the team of 60 were cut because of unexcused absences or lateness. Players were also required to attend an “early arrival” program to connect students with the community and the campus.

Myles will stay with the college. He serves at the minority services director and a recruiter at the college. He will also assume other duties, as will assistant coach Evan Amdahl. Coaching assistant Jon Butler will continue his primary responsibility as the residence hall director. The program was assisted by volunteers Glen Anderson and Derrick Olson.

The football players are welcome to stay at the college to continue their education, Merrell said, adding that he would love it if they stayed.

Merrell said the elimination of the football program will not impact enrollment rates at the college.

The college added the industrial technology program, which brought 30 new students this year. Merrell expects to add 24 students to the program next year, as well as 25 additional students to the building trades and welding certification program.

The football program is not expected to be replaced with a different sport, Merrell said.

My view is unchanged since last year when my employer, Hibbing Community College, suspended its football program over academic concerns. This isn’t about football. Our regional community colleges, partly by choice and partly by accident, got into the business of welcoming people from out of state who need extra help academically. These students don’t receive scholarships or any help that isn’t already available to local students. They simply choose to come to school at a place with football. This is in keeping with the community college mission of helping those who can’t yet attend four-year colleges. We need to find a way to make the cultural and academic transition work for these students because doing so is a statement about the ability of our communities to enter the future.

If cutting football is necessary from a budgetary standpoint, then colleges need to eliminate athletics entirely to focus on academic and career preparation for all students. Cherry picking cuts to go after specific demographic groups is wrong.

These debates — no matter what the pretext (grades, loan defaults, “community support”) — boil down to an argument about race, poverty and intercultural relations. Our communities suffer when the outside world sees us place barriers between us and people who need help. Any short term gains made in removing a problem rather than solving it are lost in the greater context. I don’t have an easy solution for Rainy River’s problems. This is just another disappointing development in a story that involves so much more than one town or one college.

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