Student-Athletes: Oxymoron?

The latest news came from Notre Dame.  “NCAA: Notre Dame must vacate wins after academic misconduct.”

According to the NCAA, the trainer was employed by the athletics department from fall 2009 through the spring of 2013 and “partially or wholly completed numerous academic assignments for football student-athletes in numerous courses” from 2011 into 2013. It said she did substantial coursework for two players and gave impermissible help to six others in 18 courses over two academic years. The NCAA said the woman “continued to provide impermissible academic benefits to football student-athletes for a full year after she graduated.”

But the news was only surprising because of the academic excellence of Notre Dame.

A few days later it was Cal State Northridge’s basketball program.

A story from Inside Higher Education this summer argued that there was an “epidemic” of academic fraud, with 15 Division I programs being punished in the last decade, including well-known institutions like Syracuse, the University of North Carolina and Southern Methodist University.

As Ohio University professor of sport administration, David Ridpath, put it:

It’s an epidemic and a problem that will continue until faculty take control of their campuses.  This can be changed, but we simply have to want to do it. This will not stop until we define what we are: professional sports being played in the higher ed space or a co-curricular activity played by students?

It can be enough to put one off Division I sports.

Fortunately at the Division III level the picture is very different.  Sports are part of a holistic education that combines learning inside and outside the classroom.  In D3 there are no scholarships and no big money to be made through television contracts.  Students truly do play “for love of the game” and athletes must perform (on their own) in the classroom or lose their eligibility.

Saint John’s University has a long tradition of recruiting smart athletes who take their academics as seriously as their athletics.  John Gagliardi’s 60 years of football graduates and Jim Smith’s 50 years of basketball graduates are filled with doctors, lawyers, CFO’s, college professors, CEOs and PhDs.  And the same is true among all other sports. A coach recently told me about getting his own healthcare from one of his former athletes.

I was reminded of this long tradition when the 2016 Academic All-Americans were recently announced for football.  There were 24 First-Team Academic All-Americans in football across the country this fall (they are listed below).  Three of them are from Saint John’s.  The only school to match that number was Carnegie Mellon University, the #24 US News ranked research university in the country, which happens to also play D3 sports.  Pretty good company.

On the second team of Academic All-Americans, there were two University of St. Thomas players, but that was it among the MIAC schools, one of the best athletic and academic conferences in the country.

Congratulations to Carter Hanson (also the only D3 Campbell Award finalist and the winner of this year’s Gagliardi Trophy which recognizes excellence in athletics, academics and community service), Lucas Glomb and Jack Pietruszewski.  We are proud to call you Johnnies. Many thanks to you and our coaches for reminding us that college athletics can be about true student-athletes playing a sport at a high level for love and not for money – a thought to bring a little cheer to the holiday season.



Pos.   Name   School   Yr.   Hometown   GPA   Major
QB Gavin Glenn Coe Sr. Adel, Iowa 3.81 Public accounting
WR Brendan Lynch Case Western Sr. Sarver, Pa. 3.45 Chemical engineering
WR Soren Pelz-Walsh Castleton Sr. Dummerston, Vt. 3.99 Physical education
TE Travis Lankerd Olivet Sr. Battle Creek, Mich. 3.95 Insurance & risk mgt.
RB Sam Benger Carnegie Mell. Jr. Hingham, Mass. 3.65 Business admin.
RB Duke DeGaetano Whitworth Sr. Bend, Ore. 3.82 Psychology
OL Cordell Boggs Gettysburg Sr. Taneytown, Md. 3.74 Biochemistry
OL A. DiFranco Albion Sr. Warren, Mich. 3.86 Accounting
OL W. Tyler Reid Carnegie Mell. Sr. Lees Summit, Mo. 3.70 Electrical engineering
OL Kyle Stucker Wabash Sr. Franklin, Ind. 3.82 Rhetoric
OL Elliot Tobin MIT Sr. Minnetonka, Minn. 3.92 Economics
K Alex Potocko Salisbury Jr. Clarksville, Md. 4.00 Physics / mathematics
DL Tim Bahr Concordia-Chic. Sr. Hartland, Wis. 4.00 Secondary ed / math
DL Michael Daniels Augustana (IL) Sr. Geneseo, Ill. 3.99 Accounting & finance
DL Brian Khoury Carnegie Mell. Sr. Davenport, Iowa 3.49 Electrical engineering
DL   Jack Pietruszewski    Saint John’s   Sr.    South St. Paul, Minn.   3.86    Environmental studies
LB Jack Campbell Johns Hopkins Sr. Chagrin Falls, Ohio 3.88 Biology
LB    Carter Hanson    Saint John’s   Sr.   Blue Earth, Minn.   4.00   Global business
LB Andy Warsen Elmhurst Sr. Wyoming, Mich. 4.00 Finance
DB Conlan Aguirre Hardin-Simm. Sr. Abilene, Texas 3.89 Math education
DB Corey Hunsberger Marietta Sr. Washington, Pa. 4.00 Petroleum engineering
DB    Lucas Glomb   Saint John’s   Sr.   Woodbury, Minn.   3.84   Biology (pre-PT)
DB Jack Toner Johns Hopkins Sr. Western Springs, Ill. 3.78 Economics
P Ryan Anderson Olivet Sr. DeWitt, Mich. 4.00 Business admin.
By |December 16th, 2016|Categories: Higher Education, Kudos||0 Comments

Social Capital and First-Generation Students

blog-16117I recently had a conversation with an alumnus who was generously sharing his time and treasure to help underserved first-generation high school students in his area make their way to and through college.  He told me that he had generally been recommending that students go to mid-tier public institutions because of the lower cost and debt burden.  I was a bit surprised at this advice coming from a Johnnie who had had a very good experience at SJU that had contributed to his significant professional success.

While certainly there is a place in higher education for a full range of public institutions—flagship research 1 schools, like the University of Minnesota, mid-sized publics, like St. Cloud State University, public liberal arts schools such as the University of Minnesota-Morris, and many two-year community and technical colleges—but private institutions like CSB and SJU can be especially good places for first-generation students.

We are much more affordable than many people – even our alumni – understand.  At Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s, we work very hard to provide financial aid packages to make our education as affordable as possible to all students.  With the generous help of our donors, we package scholarships, work-study awards and loans so students graduate with manageable debts that do not limit their job choices.

But beyond the financial issues, small private liberal arts institutions offer an additional and under-appreciated benefit to first-generation students: mentoring.  As the Gallup-Purdue Survey reported, having a good mentor in college was the key to “thriving” personally and professionally after college.  This mentoring can be especially important to first-generation students who often do not have the social capital that comes with growing up in a middle class, college educated household.

This issue of social capital is discussed in higher education but has recently been talked about more widely because of the memoir Hillbilly Elegy written by J.D. Vance, a Yale law school graduate from a dysfunctional family in Appalachia.  The story describes his life as a Marine who deployed to Iraq, then returned to go to college at Ohio State and then on to law school at Yale, where his lack of social capital became more apparent and presented challenges.  Among the things he did not know prior to going to Yale Law School: sparkling water is just carbonated water, which fork to use at a formal dinner, that his belt and shoes should match, that finance was an industry.  More importantly, he did not know the rules and processes for networking to get summer internships and eventually full-time jobs.


Richard Feynman, The Nobel Foundation

This kind of social capital is taken for granted by most students from middle class backgrounds but needs to be addressed directly and openly with all students.  At Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s we offer Etiquette Dinners for students who will soon be partaking in job interview dinners.  Career Services educates students about how to dress for interviews.  We have a great alumni network that helps students of all backgrounds prepare for internships and the job market.  But most importantly we have staff and faculty who take issues of mentoring and social capital seriously from day one and are especially attentive to the needs of our many first-generation students.  Our staff and faculty understand that a holistic education is about more than classroom learning.  Openly addressing the disparities in social capital does not make them go away, but it is the first step in eliminating these often unspoken norms that can be a barrier to students’ success in the classroom and beyond.

Writing about this topic reminded me of an amusing story told by Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman:

Feynman had attended MIT as an undergraduate, where social etiquette was not high on the value scale. He went to Princeton University for his master’s degree in physics. The new students were invited to tea at the Dean’s house. Feynman was told to wear a jacket and act properly. He was worried a bit, because the Dean’s wife had the reputation as being a starched-pants dragon lady.

She appeared with a tea pot in her white-gloved hands. She poured. He thanked her, thinking he had passed a test. But it was only the beginning.

“And how do you take your tea, Mr. Feynman?” she asked.

“How do I take it?,” he asked, probably thinking, I’m from Far Rockaway, New York. We don’t take our tea anywhere, because we never drink the stuff back home.

“Do you take your tea with milk or lemon?” she asked.

He had to think about this a moment, and answered bravely, “Both!”

The society smile froze on her face in a horrified rictus. “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!”

The story led to a book of amusing Feynman stories entitled Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  Readers can laugh with Feynman years later with his Nobel Prize in hand, but I suspect Feynman was not laughing the day of the tea.  For first-generation students, the lack of social capital can be painful, as well as a real barrier to their academic and professional success.

By |November 8th, 2016|Categories: Higher Education||0 Comments

Access, Human Potential and Administrators

One of the most common questions I get asked by alumni, parents and friends of Saint John’s is why the rate of increase in tuition over the past few decades has been so much higher than the general rate of inflation.  This is an important question that one could write a whole book on and, if you’re inclined to read about it, I’d recommend Why Does College Cost So Much? by economists Robert Archibald and David Feldman, but one important part of the answer has to do with the changing population of students that higher education now serves.

As college has gone from an optional post-high school path to an almost necessary experience for entry into the middle class, assuring access to the widest range of possible students has become a central part of the mission of most colleges.  Furthermore, the related issues of retention and completion have taken on more significance as colleges have both an economic incentive and, arguably, a moral obligation to help the students they admit to graduate.

As a greater percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college has grown from under 50% in 1975 to 66% today, many of the Millennials that schools are enrolling are different in important ways from the Baby Boomers.  As a group, they have more learning disabilities, mental health issues and are less prepared academically.  This is not to say the current generation of students is less well-educated or less healthy, but, rather, that as schools have increased their enrollments over time, they are admitting students they would not have admitted a generation earlier.  If a student had serious dyslexia in the 1970s, college simply would have been an unlikely path.  Or, if a student had mental health issues during that era, colleges would not have been prepared to deal with them, and students and parents knew that attending college was not a possibility.

A recent Wall Street Journal article examined this important change.  In “Students Flood College Mental-Health Centers,” reporter Andrea Petersen writes:

Ohio State has seen a 43% jump in the past five years in the number of students being treated at the university’s counseling center. At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, the increase has been about 12% each year over the past decade. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, demand for counseling-center services has increased by 36% in the last seven years.  Nationwide, 17% of college students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems during the past year, and 13.9% were diagnosed with or treated for depression.

Colleges have acknowledged this change in students’ needs and are working aggressively to respond, which would not have been true a generation ago.  Left to sink or swim on their own, most students with these issues would not have attempted college and, the few that did, typically dropped out.

The responses to the challenges of student mental health issues and learning disabilities have resulted in at least three significant changes in higher education:

  1. Costs.  The addition of highly educated professionals to support students has undoubtedly increased the costs of education.  As the WSJ article notes, “To handle demand, Ohio State’s counseling center hired 12 additional staff members last year, bringing the total providing clinical services to 65.”
  2. Administrative “Bloat”?  As the number of counseling professionals grows to meet changing student needs, some professors legitimately wonder if the balance between faculty and administrators is moving in the wrong direction.  Some observers of higher education believe the whole professional counseling enterprise is inappropriately coddling students and failing to prepare them for life, as can be seen in many of the comments following the WSJ article.
  3. New Students.  There is no doubt that the availability of support services has increased access for many students who were not considered “college material” a generation ago and, once they enroll, these students are much more likely to graduate than they would be absent these services.

shutterstock_485161411-1Is it possible that colleges overdo the support services–simultaneously driving up costs and potentially hurting students’ educational experience at the same time?  Maybe.  But I still recall a poignant conversation with a mother at commencement a few years ago.  She said, “I cannot thank Saint John’s enough for helping my manic-depressive son get through college.  I was not sure he would even go, and here he is successfully graduating in four years thanks to the support of your staff and faculty.”

It is hard to argue against investing in the human potential that went untapped in previous generations.

By |November 3rd, 2016|Categories: Economics, Higher Education||0 Comments