College athletes are a unique type of student, dividing their time between training, competition and schoolwork. With these athletes working so hard to represent Cal Poly in their respective sports, some students believe they aren’t required to work as hard in class.
In a student poll, 124 Cal Poly students were asked if they believe student athletes were favored academically at the University Union (UU) plaza; 57 students said yes, but more than half said they believe this favoritism is fair, given that the student athletes devote so much of their time to their sport.
Keeping grades up can be more of a challenge for athletes because they are often on the road for a game when other students are in class. For women’s basketball player Rachel Clancy, a biological sciences graduate student, missing a few classes is unavoidable.
“In the winter, every second week we miss all day Thursday, all day Friday,” Clancy said.
Some students, like Olivia Stankey, believe professors might go easier on athletic absences than other types of absences.
“If I want to go to San Francisco for some sort of paper doll convention, my professors aren’t going to be lenient about that,” Stankey said. “But they’ll be lenient about athletes.”
Clancy, however, said the case is usually the opposite when she tells instructors she will be missing class because of basketball.
“Oftentimes, I feel like (professors) are a little bit more demanding,” Clancy said.
Teachers require that she turn in her work before the due date.
If a midterm is scheduled at the same time as an away game, Clancy speaks with the professor to take it ahead of time. It’s easy to fall behind in the quarter system, Clancy said.
“I just like to stay on top of things, because if you put a midterm off because of a road trip, when you get back it’s (already) the second midterm,” she said.
To help them manage schoolwork, student athletes have academic advisers, priority registration when their sports are in season, a special study hall and a tutoring program.
Cal Poly athletes receive several extra resources to help them keep up with course work because maintaining good grades is necessary for athletes to stay on the team.
The athletic department tracks each athlete’s grades and sends out grade checks in the fourth and eighth week of the quarter. It also closely follows the athletes’ degree progress, said Shannon Stephens, director of academic services for Cal Poly athletics.
“Literally every quarter we track how many degree applicable units a student took, how many they passed and what percent of their degree is completed,” Stephens said.
If a student doesn’t have 40 percent of their degree completed at the end of their second year, Stephens said, then they’re ineligible to play for Cal Poly.
With two advisers for approximately 550 students, the athletic department is able to focus more individually on each student than any of Cal Poly’s colleges. Each athlete is required to meet with his or her academic adviser quarterly.
“For me, advising is kind of like your navigation map for your entire academic career,” Stephens said. The advisers help athletes stay on track in their schoolwork, but Stephens said athletes are ultimately responsible for their own education.
Student athletes also receive priority registration when they are in season to help minimize absences. For example, football players receive priority registration in the fall, when they are on the road most weekends.
“What we do is we try to keep them out of Friday classes,” Stephens said. “(The football team) missed three days of classes in the fall.”
The athletic department also writes letters to the professors of classes in which athletes are registered and lists which days they will miss. However, this does not mean they are excused from that day’s work.
“If something is due, they have to have it in before they leave,” Stephens said.
The athletes have a study hall in Mott Gym to give them a quiet space to finish class work.
Student athletes make good use of the study room, said Alex Phillips, a political science freshman on the women’s golf team.
“Some of the teams are required to go to study hall to keep their grades up,” Phillips said.
The athletic department also offers one-on-one tutors to athletes by request. If a student is struggling in a subject, advising can also set him or her up with a tutor.
Biological sciences senior Monica Mills was asked to tutor athletes by the athletic department because of her major and grade point average (GPA).
“I tutor on average three athletes a quarter, one to two times per week, one-on-one,” Mills said.
The athletes she’s worked with have requested a tutor not because they were struggling, but because they wanted to stay ahead in their classes, she said.
“All the athletes that I’ve tutored have chosen to get tutored,” Mills said.
The result of these efforts is a group of student athletes that academically perform almost as well as the average for the student body. The last time the average Cal Poly GPA was calculated it was approximately 2.8, and the average athlete GPA was around 2.75, Stephens said.
For Clancy, keeping grades up comes down to being proactive.
“It’s better to be way ahead than to fall behind,” Clancy said.