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Janice C. Stapley and Thomas J. Bieber, Monmouth University

Thomas Bieber.jpgJanice Stapley.jpgIt is a paradoxical time in history for student-athletes.  College sports are very popular (about 50% of the general public follow some college sport) but there are a lot of concerns and negative emotions surrounding college athletics as well (Ford, 2017).  Those who are unfamiliar with the student-athlete culture often view them as “privileged.”  Faculty, advisors, and students may question the student-athletes’ priority registration or other perquisites.  For example, a member of the audience at a talk the authors gave at a recent state level NACADA conference (Stapley & Bieber, 2017) shared that she resented student-athletes’ last minute demands for meetings during busy registration times and what particularly annoyed her was the phrasing of “coach said” in email requests.  (The phrase that she found most irritating was “coach says I need to have an appointment with you today to finalize my schedule.”)

From a social psychology lens, the situation is a classic example of in-group out-group behavior and cognitions (e.g. Tajfel, 1982).  People have a tendency to stereotype those who are not in their group, and the stereotype often includes negative biases.  Learning more about the out-group (in this case student-athletes) can humanize them and break down the assumptions of their undeserved privilege.  Those who specialize in advising student-athletes need to make sure their advisees learn more about the culture of college outside of the world of sport so that the student-athletes modify their behavior (e.g. email outreach to professors and other advisors) to improve lines of communication.  For those inside the world of collegiate athletics, and perhaps especially for students participating in Division I athletics, “coach says” is a very compelling justification for a behavior.  Outside of athletics, this phrase is more likely to raise hackles than create cooperation, especially among those who are not familiar with the daily lives of student-athletes.

The informative interchange with an advising colleague described above reminded the authors that not everyone is on board with the goal of working to optimize advising services for student-athletes.  This article aims to show that when communication improves across silos, or separate entities on college campuses that rarely interact, it might increase empathy for the student-athletes and facilitate simple programmatic changes that could increase the likelihood of student-athletes successfully completing the degree programs that they would ideally like to pursue.

Student-Athlete Lived Experiences

Janice Stapley and Vonetta Kalieta (2017) conducted individual interviews with 18 female student-athletes in their lab to get insight into their everyday life and their perceptions of the culture of student-athletes.  The participants shared that they are very happy with the social support and companionship of teammates, especially during their first-year transition to college.  However, student-athletes reported that they were stressed by over-scheduled days (including lifting and other training, team meetings, practices, mandatory study halls, and competitions that often include travel).  Beyond the stresses from juggling their schedules and sometimes not even having time to eat regular meals, they mentioned that professors sometimes do not understand their limited free time and assume that they could attend scheduled office hours or extra credit events if they really wanted to go to them.  Thus, one important outcome from better communication across different departments is that student-athletes’ lived experience will be better understood by constituencies across campus.  Since their schedules are so packed with obligations they need to fulfill for their sport, student-athletes need perquisites like priority scheduling.

Collaborations Needed

Student-athletes can be supported in their quest for a meaningful education through collaborations on their behalf across the university, including support for their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in their chosen field by the Director of Athletics, Athletic Department Advising, academic advisors in their major and minor departments, first-year advisors, and faculty who are cognizant of their schedules.  One way the Athletics Program at the authors’ Division I private university tries to facilitate communication is that student-athletes are required to hand in travel verification forms to their professors during the first week of each semester.  These forms show the student-athletes’ travel schedule for the full semester.  This not only helps inform the faculty member of their schedule, but also helps break the ice between faculty members and student-athletes.  The professor and the student-athletes can discuss whether the number of absences is likely to have a devastating effect on the student’s success in the class or whether the travel schedule is something that can be readily accommodated.

Provide Student-Athletes the Opportunity to Pursue their Preferred Major

Ideally Athletic Directors set the tone by valuing student-athletes’ choice of major so that everyone involved gets the message.  Although past literature has shown a tendency for “major clustering” in student-athletes (Schneider, Ross, & Fisher, 2010), this does not have to be the case.  The 18 female student-athletes Janice Stapley and Vonetta Kalieta (2017) interviewed included students from eight different majors—including Psychology and Biology that both have many lab courses.  However, without communication between Athletics and Department Chairs who schedule classes, colleges may unknowingly offer required major courses at times that are impossible for student-athletes.  Thus, in order to play their sport and for many student-athletes, maintain the scholarship that allows them to attend college, student-athletes might have to abandon the major that they hoped to pursue for another course of study that is possible within the time constrains of athletic participation.  But, if Department Chairs understand that they are preventing student-athletes from declaring their discipline for a major due to required courses or labs on Friday (due to travel for competition), they can modify the times that central courses are offered.

Thus, besides the tone being set at the top, the communication between the different departments allows Department Chairs to schedule classes that fit within the time constraints of student-athletes’ schedules, advisors to be aware of the time constraints of sports participation, and faculty to understand that events scheduled outside of regular class time are rarely possible for student-athletes. Thus, college personnel should work together to provide the best possible educational opportunities and create a culture in which in which all student-athletes, even those in Division 1 programs, can double major or choose a major in science or art that has labs and studio schedules that are challenging.

Enhanced Communication across Departments and Different Types of Advisors 

Athletic Advisors should send handouts that share the typical daily schedules of student-athletes before the beginning of each semester to keep all advisors and professors in the loop about times that would be best (and worst!) for scheduling course offerings as well as meetings with advisors. 

Although many student-athletes enter college with dreams of becoming professional athletes, very few will end up with that career.  Among the five major professional sports at the NCAA level, none of the student-athletes have higher than a 9.1% chance of making it into professional leagues, with football student-athletes in particular having only a 1.5% chance of going professional (NCAA, 2017).  Thus, the student-athletes, just like the rest of the undergraduate population, need an opportunity and a structure that will allow them to pursue a discipline that they are passionate about, rather than settling for a major that can be fit conveniently into their complex schedule.  The academic advice that student-athletes can obtain from their Athletic Advisor is critical, since those advising from an athletic standpoint are more aware of the requirements for eligibility that are crucial for student-athletes, such as meeting NCAA progress towards degree requirements and grade point average requirements.  But this academic advice needs to be blended with the advising they receive from experts in their academic disciplines. 

At Monmouth University, all advisors follow a common academic advising model that includes a separate advising department for all first-year students.  In this model, at least three different types of advisors need to be communicating with each other in order to best serve the needs of student-athletes.  The number of professionals and departments that need to be in close communication with each other in order to best facilitate the academic progress of student-athletes is a little daunting, but their mission is to provide the best academic advice possible to all students.  At this medium-sized, private university, about 9% of undergraduates are Division I student-athletes and they do have priority registration.  With a Director of Advising that reaches out to collaborate with academic advisors in the departments, advisors strive to provide the same opportunities for student-athletes that are available to the rest of the student body.

The authors realize that most colleges cannot go to the lengths that a school like Haverford College (which holds no classes between 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM to accommodate student-athletes’ schedules) has gone to eliminate scheduling problems for student-athletes, but with increased inter-departmental communication, different constituencies can collaborate to assure that student-athletes have an opportunity to obtain their chosen degree in a timely manner.  Just as this article has a more nuanced lens on the topic from the collaboration between a professor/Departmental Advising Coordinator and an Associate Athletics Director for Academic Support, the authors strongly suggest working across silos to best serve all of our advisees.

Janice C Stapley
Associate Professor of Psychology and Departmental Advising Coordinator
Department of Psychology, Monmouth University
jstapley@monmouth.edu

Thomas J. Bieber
Associate Athletics Director for Academic Support
Athletics, Monmouth University
tbieber@monmouth.edu

References

Ford, J. (2017, April). The politics of college athletics:  Is it all about the money? Presented at the      Monmouth University Lecture Series, West Long Branch, NJ.

NCAA. (2017). Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-- professional-athletics  athletics

Schneider, R. G., Ross, S. R., & Fisher, M. (2010). Academic clustering and major selection of intercollegiate student-athletes. College Student Journal, 44(1), 64-70.

Stapley, J. C. & Kalieta, V. D. (2017, July). Emerging adulthood theory and attitudes toward concussion among female collegiate athletes. Presented at the International Conference on Sport and Society, London, England.

Stapley, J. C., & Bieber, T. J. (2017, June). Advising student-athletes: It takes a village. Presented at The NJ State NACADA Conference, Montclair, NJ.

Tajfel, H. (1982). The social psychology of intergroup relations. Annual Review of Psychology, 33, 1-39.

Cite this article using APA style as: Stapley, J.C., & Bieber, T.J. (2017, December). Appropriate advising for student-athletes: It takes a village. Academic Advising Today, 40(4). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

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