Friday, October 20, 2006

Colleges benefit from student athletes

President's Message


In high school I was a confirmed pencil neck. At 6 feet 2, I was more than painfully thin and called "Stretch" by a few friends. Naturally, I was picked on by the usual group of males, some of whom were athletes and all of whom were much stronger than me. By the time I was in college, I had developed a healthy skepticism of everything athletic, if not a downright bias.

Once I completed a graduate degree, I took my first teaching job at small university in the Midwest and started teaching college students. Much to my surprise, I grudgingly found that some of my best students were also athletes. They attended class regularly, asked me to sign progress reports for their coaches, and were mostly A to B students. There were a few bad apples, but I found young men and women athletes generally more motivated and engaged in their education. They tended to graduate at a higher rate than their non-athlete peers.

After a few years, it became clear to me that I needed to pursue a Ph.D. if I wanted to continue to teach at the university level. I requested a leave of absence and was fortunate to land a fellowship at Northwestern University. My assignments included teaching some introductory courses in communication theory and serving as a teaching assistant and grader for a senior professor. During my two years at N.U., I encountered many student athletes and was again impressed at their level of academic engagement. One of the finest final essays I read in an advanced argumentation course - which included some very tough readings - was written by a starting offensive lineman for the Northwestern football team (who later became an M.D.). Although in those days the N.U. football team was locked in the throes of one of the longest losing streaks in Division I history, many of those players were fine students who went on to succeed in life, in spite of losing seasons.

After Northwestern I taught at two other institutions - one a large state institution, the other a small college in the South. My experience continued to be that, for the most part, college athletes persisted and succeeded more than students not engaged in athletics. But it was only after my arrival at Adams State College that I fully came to understand the importance of athletics on a small college campus.

Adams State has a tradition of excellence in intercollegiate athletics. A recent athletic Hall of Fame banquet drew one of the largest audiences I have seen at ASC outside of spring graduation. The inductees represented nearly every generation of ASC students since the 1950s, when ASC athletic programs grew as enrollments increased. But what most impressed me is that the inductees, to a person, cited their professors as the individuals who made a difference in the lives. Certainly, coaches like Dr. Joe Vigil and Dick Drangmeister and "Doc" Cotton provided inspiration and were role models for these athletes. But athletics was the vehicle that allowed them to experience their wonderful professors and attain the college education that transformed their lives. Over the years, only a handful of ASC athletes have "gone pro." But thousands of ASC athletic graduates have gone on to lead successful lives and careers.

Student athletes account for nearly 25 percent of Adams State's on-campus undergraduate enrollment. Last year, 372 ASC students engaged in at least one of our intercollegiate sports teams. We currently have 14 athletic programs, 6 men's and 8 women's. Like their predecessors, most of these young people are only able to pursue a college degree because of an athletic scholarship.
When I look at the academic success rates of our athletes and compare them to other ASC students, I am again impressed. Athletes have nearly double the graduation rate of non-athletes, and in some years, particular sports boast a 100 percent graduation rate.

Of course, athletes do more than play ball, or run, or whatever. It is important for other former pencil necks like me to understand that these 372 young people are also biology majors, history majors, art majors, English majors, etc. Almost every measure of academic success shows athletes as a group succeeding at a higher rate than non-athletes.

NCAA Division II statistics show that an athlete brings at least one additional student with them when they choose an institution. It's clear that athletes have a big impact on enrollment.

Adams State College owes a significant thanks to former and current ASC athletes who have started their "Great Story" at ASC and helped to make the campus a vibrant and interesting place for all of us. Even reformed "pencil necks."

Webmaster's Note: This column, written by ASC President, Dr. David Svaldi, appeared in Friday's Valley Courier.

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