For-profit catalysts of Olympic champions at Sochi

For UB readers who watched the Olympic bobsled races in Sochi, there was a higher ed news story unfolding before their very eyes
By: | Issue: April, 2014
March 20, 2014

Question: What do Coca-Cola, BMW and DeVry University all have in common? Answer: Each of these brand names has a sponsorship relationship with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Though there were over 30 official sponsors, only one of them is a university—so DeVry is well-positioned to be the face of 21st century higher education, a national model customized to each student’s individual and unique higher education aspirations and needs.

DeVry serves as the official higher education provider to Olympic hopefuls (through the 2016 games), offering tuition scholarships—and the flexibility and nimbleness that comes with “bricks and clicks” distance learning delivery. With more than 100 elite student athletes competing in trials, 15 DeVry students actually made the cut for the 2014 U.S. Winter Olympic Team.

Quoted in a January 2014 New York Times article, DeVry President David Pauldine offered this perspective: “There’s a very small percentage of athletes who will make it big, so it’s all about life after the Games.” President Pauldine spoke for the entire university community: “We are honored to be part of their academic journey, preparing these remarkable athletes for their careers following their Olympic endeavors.”

Investing in an education gives these athletes broader options as they move forward into the future. Of the 15 student athletes that competed during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, four are pursuing MBA’s (three bobsledders and a biathloner), six are pursuing undergraduate degree in Business Administration (including athletes competing in Alpine Skiing, Ski Jump, and Luge), two in Business Communication, one in Justice Administration, one in Computer Information Systems, and one nonmatriculating student.

As it turns out, the university is a good match for Olympians in training—amateur athletes whose rigorous schedules make a traditional four-year undergraduate college experience somewhat unrealistic.

2010 Bronze Medalist and 2014 Team USA Bobsledding member Elana Meyers offered this perspective: “Because I have this completely online platform, and because I have great advisors, I’m able to do everything regardless of where I am in the world.” Elana is pursuing an MBA through DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management.

Steven Holcomb, 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist and 2014 Team USA Bobsledding Member says, “Trying to compete at this level is not easy, it’s a full time job. … It’s very challenging, it’s very taxing, and so going to class every day is not an option for me. DeVry is exactly what I’m looking for, it’s exactly what I need…being able to do it on my terms. That’s the key to my education.”

Through its partnership with the US Olympic Committee, the university offers a way for student athletes to defray the cost of obtaining a degree, either through sponsorships, or through merit-based Career Catalyst Scholarships. Because these elite athletes-in-training dedicate so much time to their sport and invest what little time they have left in their educations, they typically wouldn’t have the option of working to fund their pursuit of a Gold medal.

For UB readers who watched the Olympic bobsled races in Sochi, there was a higher ed news story unfolding before their very eyes—a new kind of connection between the worlds of learning, earning and Olympic competition.

James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of The Sustainable University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.