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College Athletics - Academic Support Systems For Athletes

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation Encyclopedia: Classroom Management - Creating a Learning Environment to Association for Science Education (ASE)College Athletics - History Of Athletics In U.s. Colleges And Universities, Academic Support Systems For Athletes - THE ROLE AND SCOPE OF INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS IN U.S. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES


College athletics are associated with many benefits for student athletes. Besides the thrill of actually competing and learning how both wins and losses parallel many of life's lessons, the single largest associated benefit of athletic competition for scholarship athletes is the opportunity of earning a valuable degree. Academic support systems for student athletes can improve academic success and graduation potential.

Components and Resources

Although the following components of an academic support system are certainly not inclusive, the items listed are fundamental and essential to the development of a good academic support system.

Student Athletes. The better the academic quality of the students involved, the easier the job of academic support. But standardized test scores and high school grades cannot measure a student's desire or maturity. A poor high-school grade point average and low standardized test scores can be transformed into good college grades through dedication and an athlete's naturally competitive spirit. However, student athletes can also be somewhat pampered or sheltered before college, and the rigors of athletic demands and poor time management can contribute to academic underachievement.

Faculty. Faculty members are the true first line of communication regarding a student-athlete's academic performance. If communication and trust are fostered, everyone benefits. Faculty advisers must be the first source of academic advice.

Athletic Counselors. Roles of athletic counselors vary, often involving eligibility issues, personal counseling and academic advice, and simply being a friend and cheerleader. Listening skills, trust, and respect are key ingredients to a successful relationship between a student athlete and a counselor.

Tutors. Tutors can play a part in the academic success of student athletes. Careful screening, knowledge of subject, clear and concise tutoring rules, a system of checks and balances that can be enforced and monitored, and regular evaluations are critical elements for success.

Computer Resources. Maximizing a student's academic success without adequate computer support is difficult. The ready availability of computers for student athletes to use to complete academic assignments can be critical. Either the university or the athletic department can provide the computers. Dedicated machines for exclusive student-athlete use tend to be the growing trend. Having enough computers is essential. Many excellent academic support centers tend to have exclusive-use, desktop computers in an academic center laboratory, with additional laptops for use during team travel for competitions.

Nurturing Study Environment. Successful academic support centers tend to have a dedicated study area where student athletes can study in a quiet environment with easy access to both computers and tutors. Such a place becomes the defacto location to study for student athletes. Fostering the identity of this facility and insuring that disruptive behavior is not tolerated are essential.

Action Items

Many of the following action items are techniques and policies that can enhance the success of an student-athlete support center.

Good Faculty Contacts and Relationships. Having 100 percent faculty support is a rarity, and in actuality probably is an impossibility. Some schools have close to 100 percent faculty support, while other athletic departments have few friends in the faculty ranks for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the current situation, athletic departments should work diligently to mend damaged relationships–and look to foster new ones. Simply stated, the student-faculty relationship is fundamental because it is where academics and athletics meet. If communication lines are strong, initial problems can be recognized and improved before small problems become large ones. Regular telephone conversations, e-mail exchanges, early-semester warnings of academic shortcomings, mid-semester deficiency reports, and various surveys are all means that can be helpful in gathering information. It is important to recognize how critical this type of early-warning information is, and that it is available only from the student athlete or the professor. Appeals for this information should stress the value of recognizing any concerns and problems early. Faculty should be reminded that student athletes have routinely waived the rights to information privacy granted them under the Buckley Amendment (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA). The student-authorized waiver allows the release of valuable academic information to NCAA, conference, and university officials. Thus, a student athlete has generally accepted that professors can release this type of academic information to academic support staff.

Student-Athlete Stratification. Most academic support centers have limited resources, as well as student-counselor ratios that they consider too large. In a situation where resources are limited and maximizing staff efforts is important, stratifying the student-athlete population can be very useful and necessary. For example, upperclass students who have proven themselves to be responsible students will need less attention and effort than first-year students whose academic status is unknown. Devoting the most time and resources to those populations where these resources can result in the most benefits is only reasonable.

Regular Counselor Meetings. Athletic counselors should meet regularly with all students. Established, conscientious upperclass students may require only one or two meetings per semester or quarter. Freshmen and others on a so-called watchlist, and those deemed to be at risk by whatever criteria are used, should meet with their athletic counselors at least once a week, and preferably more often. Counselors can stand outside classes and count students attending class, or even attend random classes themselves, but the best way to monitor knowledge intake is to check a student's class notes regularly. Everyone has been in a class or a meeting in body only, with the mind wandering elsewhere. By checking a student's notes weekly (or more frequently), and by quizzing them from their notes, confidence levels about a student being both present and engaged in a class are increased. Making students understand that notes must be taken–on what is being done in class, and not only for test purposes–is a proven way to maximize both attendance and engagement. Even a crafty student will soon recognize that notes cannot be copied or created if they are going to be quizzed routinely, and anything less than attending class and taking notes requires more effort. Once this is recognized, a great academic leap will be achieved.

Study-Hour Incentives. Many college students view required study hours as being part of a high school mentality. Establishing a system with incentives so that a student athlete earns his or her way out of organized study hour requirements is essential. The conscientious student will recognize the relationship between performance and responsibility and will work to earn more freedom. Others will take longer and, unfortunately, some never learn.

The final aspect of study-hall hours is to insure productivity. These hours are not for socializing, sleeping, or playing computer games. Academic productivity (e.g., required note-taking from textbooks, homework inspection, and other techniques) must be monitored.

Subdivision of Large Assignments. Poor time management, competing assignments, or a feeling of simply being overwhelmed can lead to poor performance on a critical assignment, whether it be an English paper or a major project. Taking a larger assignment and dividing it into smaller, incremental, and more manageable assignments over a longer time period will enhance the final product and reduce student stress. The key is to start early and to require incremental progress reports.

Time Management Skills. Time management sessions that are developed internally or that rely on university personnel and resources are encouraged. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allows the preparation and distribution of free planners (a.k.a. day timers) by an institution, as long as it is fully generated in-house without any product endorsements or commercialization. These planners can aid time management and provide a good document that both student and counselor can inspect and use collectively. Finally, the distribution of the coming semester's planner coincides nicely with the return of a student's textbooks at the end of a semester. Thus, the student athlete has a planning document early to begin preparing and recording tasks for the upcoming semester.

Tutoring Sessions. Because of the importance of good tutorial support, completion of tutor session forms by each tutor and end-of-semester evaluations by students of their tutors are recommended. The tutor-completed form can be a simple checklist with minimal narrative. If a completed tutoring session becomes part of the payment process for the tutor, then they become expected and routine. The tutor session form can also indicate other aspects of the session, such as punctuality, student preparation, attentiveness, and tutor recommendations for further work. They can also be used later to summarize the number of sessions by semester, subject, course, individual student, team, or student classification (e.g., freshmen).

Policy and Procedures Manual. Personnel change and ambiguity in policies and procedures can exist. A policy and procedure manual (PPM) cannot assure total elimination of possible confusion or differing interpretations, but "putting it in writing" will reduce the possibilities of confusion. The PPM is also a sensible way to document how an academic support center should function.

Opportunities to Exchange Ideas. Regularly scheduled meetings between students and counselors have already been mentioned. Other meetings, such as regular staff meetings, retreats, and student-athlete evaluations of their counselors, are critical. Facilitating communication downward, upward, and laterally is critical for all parties to remain informed and functioning cohesively.


Communication and trust are critical ingredients in the successful operation of any academic support center. These two attributes have been mentioned both explicitly and implicitly. But communication and trust at all levels leads to a more successful academic support system. However, no one action or series of actions can insure success. The ideas presented here will be beneficial when considered and implemented. An athletic counselor's fundamental responsibility is to provide the guidance and resources that will help each student athlete maximize his or her academic accomplishments.

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