Grade-point averages, tests, homework — the average college student has plenty to worry about. But when you’re a college athlete, add training, practice and the all-important NCAA eligibility requirements.
In order to balance the worlds of athletics and academia, many college athletes turn to athletic tutoring programs such as MU’s Total Person Program. The program was cast in a negative light this summer when MU point guard Ricky Clemons’ ex-girlfriend said that Clemons had received improper academic assistance from the university.
But Bryan Maggard, director of the Total Person Program, said he has confidence in the quality of the tutoring program.
“I think there are a lot of people out there that don’t have a firm grasp on what we do,” Maggard said. “Unfortunately, I think those are the people who are quicker to pass judgment on what’s being done without knowing what programs are in place to help prevent those types of things.”
Reaching their goals
The goal of the program is to assist student-athletes academically, personally and socially, Maggard said. Housed in the Shelden Academic Resource Center at the Tom Taylor Building across Providence Road from Faurot Field, the program is used in some way by 80 to 90 percent of MU athletes. That’s between 400 and 450 students.
Implemented in the 1980s by Paris Watts, a health education programs coordinator at MU, the program offers tutoring, mentoring and career planning to athletes.
“The program was kind of ahead of itself,” Maggard said. “It was sort of the model for the NCAA Lifeskills program called ‘Champs.’”
For two of the past five years, MU has led the Big 12 Conference in scholarship-athlete graduation rates. However, last year, MU dropped to seventh in the conference.
Maggard attributed the change to an increase in student athletes who transferred or left the program early. Of the ones who exhausted their eligibility for collegiate sports participation, the majority graduated within the six-year timeframe considered acceptable by the NCAA, he said.
Last spring, 34 percent, or about 170 of MU’s 500 student athletes, made the dean’s list, according to the athletic department Web site.
“We reached an all-time GPA high within our athletes for the last year,” Maggard said. “In the fall, I think it was an overall 2.9 for all athletes, and in the winter we saw the same results.”
Hring athletic tutors
The program now employs about 75 student tutors as well as four academic coordinators, two graduate assistants, a director of Lifeskills — an NCAA program that provides support in a variety of areas to college athletes — and a learning facilitator.
Tutors are required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which states that tutors may have access to or knowledge of confidential matters involving the student athletes and staff — access and knowledge that is not available to the public. By signing the agreement, tutors agree to “keep all matters private and confidential” and to not “disclose any information during or after your term of employment has expired.”
“By signing, they acknowledge that they have received the information and agree to abide by those rules,” Maggard said. “As an employee they have an obligation to remain confidential.”
Tutors are selected based on an application, an essay and transcripts. Program directors take a hard look at grades and course history to see whether tutors are proficient in the areas they want to work in, Maggard said.
The application essay asks applicants to respond to one of five scenarios that he or she might encounter as a tutor, such as an athlete disliking a course or not understanding the material.
“The writing sample gives us an initial look at how they might handle different situations as a tutor as well as tells us about their personality and communicative skills,” Maggard said.
Funded through the athletic department budget, undergraduate tutors make $8 an hour, graduate students make $10, and those who lead group tutoring sessions make $15. Though tutors’ hours are flexible during the week, the program is extremely structured, Maggard said.
“We map out a schedule first — then we discuss tutoring needs,” he said. “We accept input from the student athlete because we want them to feel they are a part of the decision-making process.”
Determining tutoring needs
Tutoring needs are determined by looking at grades from the previous semester, or in the case of freshmen athletes, high school test scores and grade point averages. “By week two of every semester, each student athlete has in-hand a study hall schedule that tells them day by day, hour by hour when they’re supposed to be here and what they are supposed to be working on,” Maggard said.
New to the program this semester is junior Lisa McDermott of Lenexa, Kan. She tutors five courses, runs a math lab and is a mentor — helping with schedule organization and tracking progress. She works between 10 and 15 hours a week.
“I look over what they have scheduled for the week, any exams or assignments,” McDermott said. “In math, they’ll usually point out a question that’s giving them trouble, so we’ll talk about it, I’ll re-explain it, and then have them practice.”
For those who receive help in English, McDermott discusses history and context to make sure the student is aware of what’s going on. “It gets them to think about topics for papers,” she said.
With the resources that are provided and available to student athletes, Maggard and his team see more success than failure. “I think a student would almost have to want to fail in order to do so,” he said. “Anytime a student is successful, first and foremost, the credit goes to them for having the desire to do well academically.”
Having a tutor available has helped her grades improve, said junior Christina Gilpin, a pole vaulter from Jefferson City.
Gilpin has used the program every semester since she entered MU, and she said it has made a difference in her academic success.
“I don’t think I would be doing as well because meeting with my tutor makes me study,” the nursing major said. “I know I have to do it — it keeps me in line. Normally the tutor has had the course before and knows a lot about it.”
McDermott said that as long as people have good attitudes, they can find success with the help of the program. “I think it’s going to help you as much as you put into it,” she said. “We’re going to push you as much as we can, but the effect won’t be the same.”
The role of athletic tutors
As for the role tutors are supposed to play, Total Person Program administrators view them as supplements to what is learned in the classroom, Maggard said. Tutoring sessions are also used to monitor progress.
“We inform our athletes to not come to a session expecting to have the information put in their heads,” he said. “A writing tutor may have to assist with grammar and things of that nature, but beyond that they should really only supplement.”
Gilpin understands the tutors’ role, but she likes the fact that tutors act more like friends, instead of teachers.
“They’re not much older than us anyway, and we definitely have a lot more in common,” she said. “They can relate to having bad teachers and understand more of what I might be going through in classes.”
Though the Total Person Program has found some success in increasing academic performance and helping student athletes, tutors involved in the program also find that they get something back as well. McDermott decided to join the program because she enjoys helping people and wants to hone her teaching skills.
“It’s a good way to practice the teaching tools I’ve learned in the classroom and use it in a real life situation,” the German education major said. “Also, as a result, you learn more about the subjects you teach, which helps to reinforce what you’ve already learned.”