Academic performance of college athletes has always been a concern of higher education leaders. Administrators and advisors have spent countless hours and resources trying to find ways to encourage student-athletes to focus more attention on academics, earning better grades, and graduating on time. At the community college level, we have wrestled with this issue as well, although in different ways than our larger 4-year counterparts. Without the financial and human resources of most 4-year colleges, those of us at the 2-year level have had to be creative in convincing our athletes that what they do in the classroom is just as important as what they do on the playing field.
At my particular institution, Moraine Valley Community College, we have just begun to apply new strategies to address this issue. While we are still in the infant stages of our implementation, we have come across a key practice that holds some promise, and that may be of use to other community colleges.
Central to our approach is the idea of having a student affairs professional that is not affiliated with the athletic department in constant contact with a group of athletes. This is one of the roles that I hold at our institution. I meet regularly with the men’s basketball team to track their progress and stay abreast of the academic and social challenges they face on campus. The primary objective of this strategy is to intentionally persuade student-athletes to make regular visits to a place on campus that is not connected to the athletic facility. Oftentimes, athletes only leave the athletic building(s) to go to class or home. As a result, many student-athletes can be at a community college for 2 or more years and be unaware of the various departments and supports at their disposal. My office is positioned opposite the side of campus where the athletic facility is located. Requiring the basketball players to meet with a non-athletic department professional located on the other side of campus forces these students to become acquainted with the broader campus community. The athletes then begin to become familiar with other departments located between my office and the gym. Once they enter the building where I am located, they must past Registration, Financial Aid, Advising, Counseling, the Job Resource Center, Student Success, and TRiO just to get to my office. After the first initial visits to my office, the athletes begin to take notice of the other departments and inquire about the services these departments offer. In addition, after frequent trips through the hallways to my office, many of the administrators and staff in the above departments start to take notice of the athletes and initiate conversation and discussions. As a result, the basketball players begin seeking and receiving support in places other than the athletics department.
Most significantly, the student-athlete experience within the community college context is situated in unique circumstances. We usually only get our athletes for two years, which means we do not have much time to do the things necessary to prepare them for success after they leave us. Picking an adequate field of study and aligning classes with the requirements of transfer institutions, ideally, needs to happen in year one. Also, community colleges do not have the scholarship packages that 4-year Division I schools have, requiring many or all of our student-athletes to depend on various sources of financial aid. Some student-athletes have to secure off-campus jobs during the off-season, and in some cases the athletic season, to fund their tuition. These are issues that most 4-year college athletes do not face. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that community college athletes are familiar with campus personnel that can explain to them financial aid options, employment opportunities, career planning, etc. Such circumstances make it all the more important that community college athletes leave the “gym building” and become acquainted with other parts of the campus. Having a student affairs professional as a regular point of contact allows these student athletes to do just that.
While not foolproof, our strategy has brought positive results. Community colleges seeking to improve the academic performance of its student-athletes should consider building a bridge between student affairs and athletics. Doing so may positively affect student-athlete retention and persistence, and possibly change the conversation of athletics in higher education.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Jason Meriwether & Joe Glover on the Value of College Student Athletics