Penn State fans often defend the mantra “Success with Honor” with one number: an 88 percent six-year graduation rate for University Park athletes, according to the most recent NCAA data.
They’re correct in doing so, as our athletes outpace most of their opponents, exceeding a national Division I average of 80 percent. Post-Sandusky scandal critics cannot argue an academic “culture problem.”
So, how did they pull it off?
Coaches and academic monitors are notorious for checking if athletes attend class daily, but that’s not the only reason. Eighteen employees at the Morgan Academic Center for Student Athletes, mandatory study enhancement sessions and scholarships — lots of them — complement the lasting influence of Joe Paterno’s “Grand Experiment.” Penn State’s graduation rate for athletes actually exceeds the University Park average, which is 85 percent. The national average is 63 percent.
The Freeh Report’s recommendations, most notably the hiring of Athletics Integrity Monitor George Mitchell, may ultimately improve graduation rates for Penn State athletes even more. But, to replicate this success, university officials should consider expanding academic services for student-athletes to other needy student groups.
In response to a presentation at a Faculty Senate meeting in December, numerous faculty members said they would be in favor of a proposal to broaden the scope of the Faculty Partner Program to first-generation students, those active in minority communities and others. The program, first piloted in spring 2011, partners faculty members with Penn State teams to serve as academic liaisons. Eleven faculty members are currently participating in the program, said Linda Clark, assistant professor of statistics and Faculty Partner Program chairwoman.
Both sides win. Athletes gain a go-to counselor and approach academia differently. Faculty members achieve a new appreciation for collegiate athletics, help recruit new players and build a greater sense of community. But, according to Clark and Faculty Senate Chairman Larry Backer, unfortunately no proposals for enlarging the program have been received.
Athletes graduate from Penn State not only because of their own hard work, but through immense resources and manpower.
Here are some more sobering national numbers.
According to recent National Center for Education Statistics data, only about 57 percent of first-generation students who started college during the 2003-2004 school year graduated within six years. For minority students, it’s even worse. Black students achieved a graduation rate of about 49.8 percent, according to a 2012 Education Trust study.
So, why isn’t there a Center for Academic Resources for LGBTQ Students?
It’s quite simple: LGBTQ students only pay tuition and other fees out of pocket. Student-athletes generate more money than normal students through ticket sales, merchandising, licensing and other avenues. Scholarships pay for themselves, especially when it comes to football. Accordingly, universities put in place more eligibility safeguards to keep the star players in school and revenue flowing.
University Park does this better than most, and it’s clearly reflected in student body-wide statistics.
But, if there’s a way to take to heart the “Proud to Support Penn State Academics” signs downtown, it’s to broaden long-standing academic policies in the athletic department to at-risk groups.
As college degrees become more indispensable to finding well-paid jobs, I implore governing bodies like the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life to formulate policies with all students in mind. Plans like the Faculty Partner Program spring to mind as an area of improvement, in addition to pre-college transitioning and peer tutoring. Money talks, but so does a continuing legacy of academic success.
Mike Hricik is a senior majoring in print journalism and is The Daily Collegian’s Monday columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.