Student athlete champions

Case studies of success in the classroom and on the field of play

Contrary to popular misconception, our student-athletes in higher education are persisting and completing their programs of study on time. According to Gallup and collegiate athletic association reports, student-athletes actually outperform their non-athlete classmates in persistence and graduation in a wide and varied range of program majors.

Increasingly, student-athletes have chosen to study the diversified fields of sports management, sports finance, sports marketing, sports media and communications, sports psychology, sports medicine, and sports sciences – including programs related to exercise science, human performance, wellness and fitness, and food and nutrition science. The trending popularity of these diverse fields is rapidly increasing – according to Forbes, “over the past 30 years, there has been a significant amount of growth in sports management education programs” and the (London) Times Higher Education noted that “in recent years, sports science has rapidly become a very popular degree.”

Franklin Pierce University

Our journey of cohort institutions which cultivate the student-athlete academic experience begins at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire. Nestled in the foothills surrounding Mount Monadnock, the Franklin Pierce Ravens compete at the Division II level – with over a score of collegiate athletic teams. Franklin Pierce boasts a diverse range of sports-related academic programs including undergraduate majors in Sports Media and Sports and Recreation Management, a graduate certificate in Sports Management, and an MBA in Sports Management.

At Franklin Pierce, student-athletes have distinguished themselves in the classroom, an achievement recognized by the Northeast-10 Conference, which recently named 244 Franklin Pierce student-athletes to the Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Significantly, of these 244 student-athletes, 12 achieved a 4.0 GPA and over 100 achieved a GPA between 3.50 and 3.99. In the stadium and on the field of play, the Franklin Pierce athletics program has achieved noteworthy milestones during the last decade – for example, winning the 2007 NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer National Championship, the 2016 East Regional Baseball Championship, the 2013 East Regional Men’s Basketball Championship, the 2010 East Regional Women’s Basketball Championship, and the 2007 New England Regional Women’s Soccer Championship.

Uniquely, over the past decade, Franklin Pierce has taken an intentional, planful course of action in proliferating and elevating its athletic teams – i.e. the elevation of its Sprint Football program to an NCAA Division II program competing in the Northeast-10 Conference in the Fall of 2019.

In our interviews on campus, we learned that the Franklin Pierce Sports Media, Sports and Recreation Management, and Sports Management students are provided opportunities to directly apply learning in the classroom and at the labs. This special focus includes opportunities to broadcast live on the Ravens Sports Network, write for the Pierce Arrow newspaper, learn about the management of sports and athletic organizations, and network with members of the Franklin Pierce MBA in Sports Management Advisory Board – including representatives from the Boston Red Sox and the New England International Speedway.

Loras College

Our next stop is to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Sited near the banks of the Mississippi River, at the intersection of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the Loras Duhawks compete at the Division III level – with over 20 collegiate athletic teams. Beyond its teams, Loras features a special combination of sports-related academic programs including undergraduate programs in Kinesiology and Sport Management, a minor in Coaching, as well as a 3+2 program in Athletic Training.

The Loras Duhawks distinguish themselves in the classroom. During the 2016-2017 academic year, 78 student athletes were named to the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) All-Academic Team. As an athletic program, the Duhawks placed 45th in the 2016-2017 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup out of over 300 Division III level schools – the best finish in Loras history. Over the last decade, the Duhawks program has achieved repeated success – with IIAC championships in Baseball, Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country, Men’s and Women’s Soccer, and Women’s Volleyball. Uniquely, in April 2017, Loras College was selected by the NCAA to host the 2020 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship at the Loras Athletic & Wellness Center.

In the classroom, Loras students are provided with rigorous and competitive academic programs focused on sports leadership and hands-on sports sciences. By way of example, Sport Management students have the opportunity to embrace the actual work environment by interning in sports for a full semester – Loras sports students have completed internships with the United States Olympic Committee, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Arizona State University Athletic Department, just to name a few.

Uniquely, the Loras Kinesiology students have access to the Human Performance Lab and work directly with the latest equipment, software, and tests. Further, in the 3+2 Athletic Training program, students will be provided with quality didactic and clinical athletic training experiences, which will ultimately equip graduates to function as mid-level providers, such as physical therapists, nurse practitioners, and occupational therapists – moving Loras to the forefront of the fast-changing professional requirements for athletic trainers.

Of special note, the Loras Sports Management program finished 1st in the 2017 Sport Marketing Association (SMA) Conference Academic Case Study competition for an unprecedented 5th consecutive championship, which brings the program’s total to11.

With this special perspective in mind, it is no wonder why Loras President Jim Collins was chosen by peers to serve on the NCAA Division III Chancellors/Presidents Advisory Group, a position he held from 2013-2015. Upon this appointment, President Collins put his role this way:

“My role as a member of this advisory group will give the Iowa Conference and Loras a voice in the decision-making process related to the NCAA Division III athletic programs at the national level. Since NCAA Division III athletics are a major part of our campus experience, I look forward to sharing our Conference’s and our College’s perspective on matters related to these discussions.”

Elon University

Our last stop is Elon University in North Carolina. Situated in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, the Elon Phoenix compete at the Division I level – with 17 collegiate athletic teams – and features undergraduate sports-related academic programs in Exercise Science and Sports Management, along with minors in Coaching and Wellness and Health Education.

During the 2016-17 academic year, the Elon Phoenix had 186 student-athletes who were recognized with the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Commissioner’s Academic Award – specifically, “Elon had the most, or tied for the most, players represented in men’s basketball (9), men’s soccer (20), women’s soccer (23) and women’s tennis (9).” In the athletic arena, Elon moved to the Division I level in 1999 and recently moved to the CAA in 2014-15, following success in the Southern Conference. Since joining the CAA, the Phoenix continue to achieve athletic success, which has included the 2017 CAA Women’s Basketball Championship, as well as the 2015 and 2016 CAA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championship.

Turning our attention to the classroom, Elon’s student-centered environment provides its students with experiential learning opportunities. Exercise Science students “are required to complete a practicum experience and are strongly encouraged to complete an internship or research experience.” On campus, students can work in the Koury Athletic Center, which features three laboratories. For Sport Management students, exposure to the professional world begins early with internship opportunities in a variety of organizations such as the Greg Norman Line/Reebok Clothing, Madison Square Garden, PGA and LPGA, and parks and recreation departments.     

James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.


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