Student-athlete success centers provide holistic support

Student-athlete centers are evolving beyond academic guidance to help in achieving post-graduation success.

Managing microlevel student support involves recognizing the needs and lifestyles of individual demographics. Student-athletes—who are unique in how they spend time on and away from campus—now often have new services and supports. Student-athlete centers, the base of that support, are evolving beyond academic guidance to help in achieving post-graduation success.

Building relationships, better results

Campus leaders recognize the value of successful student-athletes. Because the NCAA requires certain academic benchmark levels for participating athletes, success center staff should be versed in current mandates. “Those [benchmarks] can often be complicated and confusing, so having someone to assist students in navigating them is important,” says Kacy King, associate athletics director for academic services at Florida State University.

Student-athlete centers establish a sense of belonging and structure for athletes, beginning as early as registration. “The safe environment created in the academic services office allows students to be who they are without any concerns of judgment or expectation on who they are supposed to be,” says King.

To help evolve its strategy, FSU used an administrative assessment offered by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, which supports student-athlete professionals.

Academic programs for freshman athletes at The University of Mississippi are built around indicators of academic deficiencies such as high school GPA, says Bob Baker, senior associate athletics director, student-athlete development at the university’s FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center. Freshmen are assigned an advisor and attend mandatory study labs.

After freshman year, mandatory activities pare down to two lectures or programs per year. Center advisors can also help with major selection and graduation planning; learning specialists and tutors offer academic support, says Baker.

Student-athletes can also seek life-skills training and leadership development. In addition, the center pairs athletes with summer internship, community service and promotional opportunities, such as public speaking gigs.

Staffing up for holistic support

Binghamton University in New York hires approximately 65 student tutors each semester for its student-athlete success center. A mentoring program pairs a student-athlete with a nonathlete student (often in a similar degree program) to help the athlete navigate student life, says David Eagan, assistant provost and associate director of athletics-student services and NCAA compliance.

Learning specialists are a key support piece. “At many institutions, student-athletes are battling stigmas attached to them by other students; a lack of confidence with academics; a new, unfamiliar environment; and many other things in addition to the demands put on them by school and their sport,” says King.

For athletes who may be underprepared for the rigors of college, learning specialists work to increase their motivation to learn.

To do so, says King, they focus on an athlete’s desire to succeed and convey how success in the classroom often translates to success on the playing field.

Interdepartmental responsibility to student-athlete success

Helping student-athletes succeed is a campuswide effort. At Florida State, for example, employees from academic areas, student-athlete development and the athletic training room work with coaches. Undergraduate studies administrators, the student disability resource center and global engagement staffers are also frequent collaborators. Savvy success-center administrators are communicating about student-athlete services and amenities during recruitment visits and via flyers, social media posts, group texts and emails.

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