MLS extends partnership with Southern New Hampshire University

Tesho Akindele realizes a career as a soccer player can be fleeting at best.

The FC Dallas forward went to college but never finished before he was drafted by the Major League Soccer team in 2014. A partnership between MLS and Southern New Hampshire University allowed him to wrap up his bachelor's degree.

But Akindele has taken it a step further. He's about to start working toward his master's in finance.

"We have this great career and we've been working our whole lives toward this one thing. Then we get it, and sometimes it's easy to forget that it's going to end, and it's going to end way earlier than everybody else's career," Akindele said. "So we have to be prepared to continue living our lives after that."

Major League Soccer announced Thursday that it is extending the partnership that has helped the league's players and employees with tuition assistance to pursue their college degrees.

With many promising young players going the academy route rather than playing college soccer, the SNHU program has been popular. Fifty-five players and 50 league staff members are currently enrolled.

One of them is Toronto FC and U.S. national team forward Jozy Altidore, who is working toward a business degree. Altidore figures he's got about a year and a half to go. The program also allows the players flexibility in completing their coursework.

"It was a big priority for my mom and my dad that I went to school and get a college education like they did. And being of Haitian descent, for most parents education is key on the island: Educate yourself and making sure you continue to learn is important," Altidore said. "So that's a promise that I made to my mom when I turned pro, that I'd someday still get a degree."

The program, which started in 2015, was extended through 2020.

"All too often, professional athletes have to choose between going to college and going into the pros," said SNHU President Paul LeBlanc. "Partnering with MLS allows us to meet students where they are and provide an opportunity; they no longer have to postpone one dream to achieve the other."

Southern New Hampshire has some 4,000 students enrolled at its Manchester campus and more than 80,000 enrolled in its online programs.

As part of the partnership, the league offers SNHU students internships both at its New York headquarters and with a number of teams. One intern recently was promoted to a full-time position in the league's communications department.

Akindele, who played in 29 games for FC Dallas last season with 15 starts and four goals, was the first player to earn his degree from the program. He had a jump on others because he already had some college credit. So far, four degrees have been awarded.

Akindele, who also plays for the Canadian national team, has about an hour or two of homework each day. Practice is mostly in the morning, so he tries to get all his school work done before dinner. Travel schedules mean he has to be smart about time management.

"I always knew I was going to finish my degree," he said. "It was something I promised myself and the people close to me -- that even though I'm going to live my dream now, I'm going to make sure I get that degree."