USC and Major League Soccer (MLS) announced a multi-year partnership through online learning during a press conference on April 14.
The partnership will allow current MLS players and staff to participate in Carolina Online and earn a USC degree entirely through remote learning.
Carolina Online was announced earlier this semester as the largest coordinated effort by the state system to offer online education at an undergraduate level, consisting of 40 different online programs, according to Diana Mitchell, senior associate provost for social innovation and e-learning at USC.
“The goals of Carolina Online remain the same, which is to be an accessible and affordable option for individuals at large to pursue their education,” Mitchell said.
The MLS partnership with Carolina Online will now allow soccer players to pursue a degree while also pursuing a professional athletic career.
“What most students are used to doing is going to college and then going pro. Well, that kind of cuts into some of the peak years for soccer players," Mitchell said. "So, their proposition is join Major League Soccer, become a professional younger, but don’t worry, you don’t have to choose between being a professional and going to school.”
Jamil Northcutt, the MLS vice president of player engagement, said the courses will be available to the 800 current players and 3,500 former players.
“We wanted to partner with an institution that was a major research 1 institution, because again, as you start looking at teaching services and research for us, you know, education is very, very important, and we’re always looking to invest in our athletes,” Northcutt said.
Members of the staff at the 27 locations of MLS clubs will also have the opportunity to partake in Carolina Online.
"You're looking at a lot of individuals who would be willing to take USC up on this offer of an online education, not to mention part of the agreement, too, is to create opportunities to market and promote Carolina Online,” Northcutt said.
Players for eMLS, which consists of the league's electronic competition, will be encouraged to partake in the program as well.
“Those are individuals who are digital natives. So, being on an online environment will not be uncomfortable for them," Mitchell said. "That will be probably a pretty seamless transition, and certainly eSports is one of the fastest-growing segments, so we’re really excited to be in front of that group of individuals as well."
The partnership will allow USC residential students to have more research capability and networking opportunities through a MLS speaker series and through more internships, according to Mitchell.
“What we have arranged is for a joint research fund of $30,000 that is between both MLS and USC in terms of funding. And students will have an opportunity with their faculty mentors and researchers to recommend projects that they would like to do and put together a proposal and have it be considered for funding,” Mitchell said.
Northcutt said he is looking forward to the benefits the partnership will provide both USC and MLS.
“I’m always excited about our players being able to have a chance to advance professionally, but I’m also really excited about some of the other research opportunities that allow us be innovative and creative,” Northcutt said.
University President Bob Caslen said during the press conference that he was excited for the opportunities this partnership presents.
“Our mission at the university reflects this commitment to serve and to transform the lives of the people of the state of South Carolina, to contribute to the overall strength and vitality of the state and to increase access and affordability to higher education," Caslen said. "All of these are the same priorities that MLS enables us to achieve."