By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO

When high school student athletes are awarded college athletic scholarships conventional thought is that it covers all the expenses of a post-secondary education. However, there is a difference between an athlete who competes in glamorous high-profile Division I major college sports such as football and basketball and those who compete in lower division non-revenue Olympic sports such as lacrosse or track and field.

Since the inception of Title IX – which mandates colleges spend equally on scholarships and resources for men’s and women’s sports – partial scholarships have become the way for smaller programs to comply and remain compliant with NCAA academic progress rate (APR) guidelines. However, that leaves a financial gap for families to subsidize their post-secondary education.

Carla Dickerson, a former high school counselor in PG County, now helps students athletes bridge the gap to help them qualify ad earn scholarships for college. (Courtesy Photo)

Carla Dickerson, who was given the nickname “The Scholarship Lady” by students she counseled at Surrattsville High School in Clinton, MD helped them gain over $9 million in scholarships for college bound students.  While working in the Prince George’s County School system she noticed how many athletes were on the verge of losing scholarship opportunities because their inability to meet eligibility requirements.

“I felt the crisis that was right in front of me,” Dickerson told the AFRO. “When you see students on the verge of losing $200,000 in scholarships because they can’t make eligibility requirements I knew I had to do something.”

Dickerson not only helps student athletes she has befriended non-student athletes as well.  However, the challenges that face those who participate in athletics have traditionally been greater than conventional students.  While traditional college bound students must only worry about meeting institutional guidelines for acceptance into college, athletes must meet additional standards.

“Most athletes tell me [they] didn’t know anything about this,” Dickerson said.

There are separate grade point average guidelines for the athlete their academic counterparts don’t have to meet for entrance.  The difference between a 2.0 GPA and 2.3 can be overwhelming when athletes aren’t driven by the same work ethic in the classroom that they bring to the playing field.  It also becomes more prevalent when taking the standardized Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) if athletes are not pushed to prepare for them.  On a 1,600-point scale Dickerson noticed how Black athletes were settling for between 700 and 900 which is the lowest among any group who take those standardized tests according to national statistics.

Student athletes who receive partial scholarships cover a major portion of their room, board, and tuition.  However, the remainder of what must be paid becomes the burden of the student and ultimately the family. Dickerson helps them defray the costs by identifying scholarships and grants that are available often long after college signing day or after graduation if the athlete qualifies.

“A person who needs a scholarship is a person who needs a scholarship,” Dickerson said.

Her program applies the same skills that developed as a high school counselor.  She developed a regimented boot camp that prepares all students for success meeting the SAT or ACT requirements with strategies that help them navigate through academic landmines of what are considered culturally biased tests. Dickerson also coaches parents on becoming proactive by introducing the NCAA’s eligibility clearinghouse process which allows them to be greater advocates for the student-athletes during the recruiting process. Most important she helps improve their writing skills because to qualify for late grant or scholarship subsidy after graduation they must write an essay to any potential provider.

Dickerson hopes to become certified by the NCAA and is advising students-athletes in seven cities around the country.