KSU athletes boast strong graduation rate

Deanna Stevens

Kent State athletes may wear shoulder pads, batting gloves or team tennis shoes.

But there is one uniform that at least three out of four Flashes wear at some point in their collegiate careers — a cap and gown.

Federal graduation success rate reports say that in 2006 Kent State’s athletic department will graduate nearly 78 percent of its athletes. That is about 32 percent higher than the student body at large.

“Intercollegiate athletics at Kent State University is an educational program,” Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy said. “Our coaches are teachers, and our coaches hold our student athletes accountable for going to class, doing assignments, being good citizens.”

Cathy O’Donnell, senior woman administrator and associate athletic director for academic services, said the rates begin with the type of players the coaches recruit.

“There is a lot of work that goes into it, starting with the coaches because they do the recruiting,” O’Donnell said. “They’re doing a great job of selling Kent State, and then selling the whole commitment to getting your degree. Sure, athletics is part of that, but that alone isn’t enough.”

Kent State football coach Doug Martin said the coaches look at recruits’ academic history as well as their athletic ability.

“When we recruit, we really do a good job of evaluating academics also.” Martin said. “If we find two players and the talent level is close, we’re going to take the better student. And we’ve recruited some really good students in here the last couple of years.”

The thought of becoming academically ineligible can be another good motivator for student-athletes.

“If they’re ineligible, they will be replaced on their team with somebody else next year,” O’Donnell said. “And most of our athletes are looking over their shoulders all the time. That’s incentive to make sure you get your work done in the classroom and elsewhere.”

Close attention to athletes

The academic support staff is made up of three counselors, Jen Kulics, assistant athletic director for academic services, Mike Duve, and Kristin Reed, assistant director of academic services. Kulics, while overseeing the academic support unit, is also the academic adviser for men and women’s basketball, volleyball and softball. Duve is responsible for field hockey and football. (And) Reed advises the other seven sports, as well as compiling data for the academic progress rate and the graduation success rate.

Kulics said the advisers pay close attention to the athletes.

“We send progress reports out, so if our athletes are not doing well academically within the first four or five weeks, we know about it,” Kulics said. “Where a normal student may go a whole semester, or even half a semester before they get a letter in the mail saying they’re not doing well. But with us, we’re calling (the athletes) and we’re saying, ‘What are you doing? Get your butt in here to see some tutors.’ So there is a lot more accountability.”

Senior basketball player Sarah Burgess said the increase in the amount work of going to college is overwhelming at times, especially for underclassmen, but the advisers aren’t the only people the players use for support.

“It’s a rude awakening (for freshmen) at first,” Burgess said. “But they get acclimated to it within a month or two. And we’re always there if they need anything; it’s just like big sister/littler sister. We’re a team, we’re a family and I think that’s the best part.”

Burgess, an integrated math major, will count toward the team’s 100 percent 2005 Graduation Sucess Rate after she fulfills her student teaching requirement for graduation.

Senior volleyball player Sarah Wilber said some of the younger athletes also have to get used to the demands of the team during the off-season as well. As a three-sport athlete in high school, Wilber said she knew how important it was to organize her time.

“I’m only going to have this amount of time after school or during the weekend,” she said. “So you get in the habit of balancing your school work with your sports or any other extracurricular activities that you want to do or have time to do.”

Wilber is a human development and family studies major with a 3.96 GPA.

Days of the dumb jock are gone

Martin also said he realized the challenges the players have with adapting to college academically as well as athletically. He said he moved up the spring practice schedule, which now begins in February, in order to give his players a chance to focus on finals at the end of their off-season.

With an 83 percent graduation rate, the football team is in the top tier of the Mid-American Conference for graduating its athletes. The MAC leads the nation with every university graduating at least 50 percent of its football team.

Martin added being successful athletically goes hand-in-hand with the academic performance of a team.

“There’s not many places were you can find that (teams) are poor in the classroom but good on the field,” Martin said. “The day of the dumb jock is over. I wouldn’t want to coach kids like that. I want to teach a group of kids who can learn, be self-motivated and do things.”

Softball coach Karen Linder said the success of the athletes is a ‘priority’ of the team. She said that the team takes part in weekly meetings and progress reports.

“We pay very close attention to what our kids are doing academically,” Linder said. “And I believe that is a big part of my job.”

Along with teammates, coaches, and academic counselors, a full-time learning specialist and math specialist are available to student-athletes, even if they don’t need them.

“I haven’t had a tutor since freshman year with math,” junior football player Anthony Dugarte said. “I’m not really big on math. Just to have it there when you need it is a big deal.”

Dugarte is a sports physiology major, with a 3.65 GPA.

Centralizing academic support

Keith, the learning specialist, helps athletes adjust to college by teaching them study strategies. Kulics said Keith is also another source of backing for the athletes.

“She’s very much a friend and a counselor to them too,” Kulics said. “She’s kind of their support system away from home. They won’t necessarily talk to their coach about what they’ll talk to Deborah about. Deborah is instrumental to our success every single year.”

O’Donnell said the Resource Center “centralizes” the operations for the academic support.

“Oh, I love the academic resource center,” senior women’s basketball player Mallorie Griffith said. “They have computers available. Tutors are always there. You can just go in there, sit down, be quiet and you can get your work done. I use it a lot.”

The resource center has not only centralized the academic support staff, it is also a place where athletes can fulfill individual team requirements.

“It’s really been working out well,” Kulics said. “Some of our teams use it for Sunday study tables. We also run study tables four nights week. They’ll go in swipe their FlashCard and when they leave, if they’re seeing a tutor, studying or writing a paper, what ever they’re doing, when they leave then they’ll swipe out. And every week I send to the coaches a report that will document their team’s hours.”

Jenkins, a 1963 Kent State alumna, had two criteria for the center, O’Donnell said. He wanted a place for athletes to go and study outside of the library or their room. He also wanted the facility to recognize the academic All-Americans. There is a mural of the student-athletes starting with the class of 1972.

“And so part of what that room does is raise the visibility of our outstanding students who’ve come through the program,” O’Donnell said.

The John and Joyce Farrell Academics All-America Gallery is a mural that depicts the 30 athletes who have achieved the honor. The Farrell couple donated $1.5 million to the athletic department as Blue and Gold Supporters.

Mr. Farrell graduated with honors from Kent State in 1952 with a degree in business administration. Mrs. Farrell received her education degree in 1953.

“I think it would be nice to have places like that all over campus,” O’Donnell said. “The study rooms in the residence halls are sometimes so sterile, with bright lights and you’d like to have a place where you can comfortably go in and do your thing. I don’t think this should be unique to athletics.”

Contact football reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].


Unlike the federal statistics, the NCAA uses an alternate way of determining the graduation success rate. Both the Education Department and the NCAA use data with in a certain six-year cycle. For the 2006 cycle, Federal and NCAA findings are represented by the class entering in the 1999-2000 season.

With Kent State athletics, the NCAA Graduation Success Rates can range from 5 percentage points to 50 percentage points higher than the federal rates. And that difference is mainly because of one key factor.

“The graduation success rate for athletics accounts for transfer students,” said Jennifer Kulics, assistant athletic director for academic services said. “Transfers student athletes that come to your institution and graduate count in your graduation success rate. And an athlete that leaves your institution eligible count doesn’t count against you.”

Kulics added that athletes have a possibility to earn up to four points in a year. Those points are dictated on a semester basis whether an athlete is academically eligible and they are retained to the following semester. With the NCAA system a student that transfers out of the program would receive three out of four points, instead of zero points with the federal system.

“But, in the past, if athletes leave your institution, they just wouldn’t count for you at all for your graduation rate. If they left eligible or ineligible, it was like they just disappeared and they weren’t counting for your

graduation rate.”