Athletics takes action to ensure high student-athlete graduation success rate

SIUE Athletics ranked no. 1 for graduation success rate against other NCAA Division I public institutions in Illinois and no. 11 compared to all Division I public institutions. Additionally, Fall 2018 marked the 25th consecutive semester that student-athletes achieved a cumulative semester GPA of 3.3 or higher.

This success is a product of many measures taken on behalf of the student-athletes, their coaches and Athletics at large.

The emphasis on student-athlete academic success starts before the athletes begin playing for the Cougars. Before any scholarships are awarded, the athletic academic advising staff does an academic audit on the prospective athlete in which they look at the student’s past records, speak with their guidance counselors, assess the student’s test-taking skills as well as other actions. Athletic Director Brad Hewitt must then sign off on the audit.

“[The coach’s] main role is bringing student-athletes, not just athletes, to this institution,” Associate Athletic Director Jaci Declue said.

Once the student-athletes get to campus, there are many measures put in place to ensure their success. In addition to their major advisers, each team is assigned an athletic academic adviser who meets with an athlete as often as necessary to suit their academic needs. Some athletes meet with their adviser once a semester, while others may meet once or twice a week.

“We are generalized just like the general advisers in the Student Success Center,” academic athletic adviser Lindsey Schmidt said. “We do the same thing, but we balance some of the NCAA things that we have to watch out for that are requirements.”

NCAA requirements include a variety of topics, from enrollment of a minimum of 12 credit hours during both semesters, countable athletically-related activities and transfer stipulations.

These advisers also work with coaches to make the optimal class schedules for the student-athletes.

“The time demands on our athletes at the Division I level are pretty heavy, so it’s really important that we coordinate [with the athletic academic advisers] to make sure that they are getting the most out of their time academically as well as athletically,” Women’s Soccer Head Coach Derek Burton said. “That means that we schedule our practice time based on the most convenient time in their academic schedules.”

In addition to these specialized advisers, all freshmen athletes have mandatory study hours, commonly referred to as study tables, for the year and all transfers are required to complete study tables for at least their first semester. Depending on a student’s major and academic record, they are assigned a minimum of two to eight hours a week. A student may still be assigned study hours after the required time frame depending on their academic performance.

Student-athletes may use the Athletic Lab, which is stocked with computers and study rooms within the athletic department, to complete their study hours. Student tutors are in the lab Monday through Thursday and on Sunday. Additionally, the lab is close to the student-athlete’s support system, which maximizes the student’s probability of producing quality work.

“[The lab’s] location has always been near where their advisers are and proximity to those people might mean that they might ask … for more help,” Schmidt said. “They’re near their support and in an environment where they’re with like individuals that understand the same rigor that they’re going through, and we can also hold them accountable.”

Student-athletes are not required to complete their study hours in this lab, they are provided charity timesheets to be able to complete hours at other locations.

SIUE Athletics reconfigured its career education program in 2017-2018 so it now works with freshmen and sophomores. Schmidt is in charge of the revamping of the program, and said it focuses on career readiness concerns specific to athletes.

“We recognize that some student-athletes really didn’t know how to market themselves because being a student-athlete doesn’t really lend a lot of time to do other things,” Schmidt said. “Some find a way to do it, but some say ‘how do I even compete with a student who had a job and was on this group, committee or club?’ so we like to educate them on how they can market themselves and the transferable skills that they learned by being a student-athlete.”

While all of these resources are available to student-athletes, they are ultimately the ones in charge of their own academic success. According to university policy, students are allowed to make up the work from missed classes due to university-sponsored business.

Professors are informed through absence letters of dates that the student-athletes will miss class, but it is the athletes’ responsibility to make arrangements for missed work.

“[Having to make arrangements for missed work] gives athletes ownership of their own education, because even though they’re missing, they’re still being held accountable for the work,” Declue said.

Many student-athletes see the value in the university’s initiatives, including baseball’s senior pitcher Ryan Byrd. Byrd decided to transfer to SIUE, and while he did not make this decision based on the student-athlete graduation success rate, it solidified his confidence in his decision.

“I had committed and signed before I saw [the high graduation success rates], but once I saw that, it helped me realize 100 percent that it was a good choice,” Byrd said. “The chances of me getting a degree from this school and playing a sport are higher than [other] Division I programs.”

For more information on the career education program, visit https://www.siuecougars.com/career-dev/index. The Athlete Handbook provides information on elligibility requirements and is avaliable at https://www.siuecougars.com/athleteservices/1819athletehandbook.pdf.

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