“We have to justify spending money on all these
programs, including sports. If we're going to put in
the money, it darn well better lead to outcomes for
MARGARET MCMENAMIN, president, Union County College
"There's a little more guidance at the beginning,
then you pull away to see if they're getting somewhere on their own," Mueller says. "Being a small
school, our professors know who all their students
are. But we expect students to come get our services,
too. These (services) are available, but they won't
come to your door."
Union County College takes what McMenamin
and Dean of College Life Tammy Smith call a "strin-gent" approach to intercollegiate sports. Student-athletes must take 15 credit hours per semester,
spending two hours weekly at one of the school's
certified academic learning centers. Students who
don't meet their prescribed study time during game
week are benched that weekend. Classes, homework
assignments and test results are closely tracked, with
players not reaching preset academic criteria getting
pulled from practice. Administrators even fired a
coach when his entire roster failed to graduate.
"We hire coaches who understand the importance of our kids graduating in two years," says
Smith. "I'm always communicating with our deans
and other divisions when there's an issue."
An aggressive stance on athletes' classroom
performance points to a wider student success
agenda that saw the institution's graduation rate
rise from 5. 9 percent in 2009 to 24. 1 percent last year,
McMenamin notes. Higher outcome demands from
the U.S. Department of Education play a factor, too,
as does an increased need to substantiate program
funding through improved persistence and graduation figures.
"We have to justify spending money on all these
programs, including sports," says McMenamin. "If
we're going to put in the money, it darn well better
lead to outcomes for our students."
LEARNING THE ROPES
PCC's student-athlete population graduates
at a rate 4 percent higher than the general
enrollment, boosted by an ongoing program
that concentrates on retention, development
and career building. Called PASS, the program
requires athletes to attend an orientation on how
the various college departments can meet their
unique needs. Additionally, students take an
assessment that analyzes their skill set to give
them career options beyond sports. During the
academic year, learners scoring below a 2. 5 GPA are
placed in four hours of weekly study hall, where
they can do homework or meet with a tutor.
"You have to dig in your heels and do the
work," says PCC’s Mueller. "By establishing a
culture we've found players who have a stronger
academic background, or we've helped them form
into someone more academically minded."
Kwanza Jones, a volleyball and track athlete
at PCC, earned her associate degree in May, with
plans to study sports management this fall at
Wichita State University. A native of Needville,
Texas, situated in Fort Bend County between
Houston and Galveston, Jones used PCC as a trial
run for a four-year university.
"I wasn't even sure I wanted to attend college,"
Jones says. "I didn't trust myself to go out on my
own and be responsible. (Community college) was
like testing the waters."
Jones learned about accountability and schedule
management in juggling practice, game days and
her studies along with a job at McDonald's. During
volleyball season, Mueller acted as Jones's coach,
athletic director and academic advisor, going
through her schedule every semester and projecting a grade for each class. Jones took extra tutoring
time to improve her math skills, quickly growing
an appreciation for the hands-on approach PCC
took with her academic career.
"When it came down to it, grades were always
something I stressed over," Jones says. "Coach
Mueller was always more adamant about success