Student athletes: Centre administration shares secrets of success
Centre’s student athletes are known for their success both on and off the field, a topic Vice President for Academic Affairs Stephanie Fabritius and Dean of Student Life Randy Hays recently presented on at the most recent Council of Independent Colleges conference.
The panel the two participated in also included academic administrators from the University of Mount Union and Butler University. Attendees were present from a wide range of independent colleges. The duo presented during the session titled “Partnerships among Faculty, Staff and Athletic Coaches: Supporting the Student Athlete.” The session’s driving questions were: “How can faculty members, staff and coaches work together to help student athletes succeed? What strategies help students meet both their academic and athletic commitments?”
Fabritius and Hays, who oversee a student body with a 43 percent participation rate in varsity sports, had many of the answers. Their discussion during the presentation illustrated that there are many different successful models for colleges that support student athletes.
“It’s different depending on whether you are a Division I, II or III school, whether you’re a small college or large university,” Hays explains. “Also important is the reporting structure of the various offices—does athletics report directly to the president, or to student affairs or to the academic dean? It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Both Hays’ and Fabritius’ are quick to point out that student athletes are students first and foremost and that their academic endeavors should be supported accordingly.
“The primary emphasis is on academics, and it needs to remain that way,” Hays say. “Especially helpful is communication between academics, athletics and student affairs. For example, our faculty liaison program helps keep that communication open.”
Centre’s attendance policy that limits the amount of class-time student athletes can miss due to athletic commitments was one idea that generated interest at the conference.
“Fall sports have used a little less than half of their allowed absences this year,” Hays explains. “It’s thanks to constant communication between athletics and academics.”
In addition to the open lines of communication, there are several organizational support strategies at work within the College, including athletic advisory committees and a College Council committee devoted to athletics and recreation.
As Dean of Student Life, Hays finds it important to make athletics an integral part of event planning in his office.
“The Student Activities Council hosts tailgate parties for every single sport,” he says, “We also respect the campus-wide athletic practice schedule from 4 to 7 p.m. every night. We try to schedule our events around those times.”
Both Hays and Associate Dean Beth Glazier-McDonald serve as connections with athletic coaches, who are in close contact with their players. The goal is to ensure that any concerns regarding a student athlete are addressed quickly.
“We often check in with coaches and encourage them to be more than an athletic coach by talking with their students about classes and extracurriculars,” says Hays.
“Likewise,” Fabritius adds, “we communicate regularly with coaches about academic conflicts that arise.”
Interestingly, despite the rigors of the Centre classroom and athletic programs, most student athletes at Centre have higher GPAs during their playing season.
“Many of our athletes are more successful in-season because their time is so constrained,” Hays explains. “They have to be more intentional about their work. It also speaks to the great dedication they have, both to their studies and their teams.”
Ultimately for Hays and Fabritius, coordinating athletics, academics and student affairs year-round is vital to helping student athletes make the most of their college experience. Specifically, the two talked about the importance of educating the whole person.
“We want student athletes to be successful on the field and in the classroom and to able to be in a play, or be involved in student government,” Hays says. “We want students to get the full, well-rounded kind of experience. That means being a successful athlete, successful student, and having the opportunity to participate in other clubs and organizations. It really takes all of us working together to get that going.”
As a result of some of these recent conversations, Fabritius, Hays, Glazier-McDonald, and athletic director Brad Fields have made a commitment to meet regularly in order to expand these conversations. All involved are looking forward to continuing this kind of collaborative work.