Student athletes at the University of Wyoming are usually remembered for their feats on the field or the court, not in the classroom.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has academic requirements every student-athlete must surpass, including a minimum GPA and degree completion, and UW is passing them with flying colors.
“The NCAA has a series of benchmarks,” said Phil Wille, associate athletic director for internal operations. “The final goal is successful graduation.”
UW’s minimum GPA is 2.0, which all students must attain if they want to play.
“If the minimum is not acquired, the student will be academically ineligible and cannot compete or represent UW in an athletics competition,” Wille said.
However, that is not a problem for most UW student-athletes. In the 2014-2015 school year, athletes averaged a 3.05 GPA, which is slightly higher than the university average. Eight athletes were district scholar athletes, and one was an Academic All-American.
“(Academically), the University of Wyoming is recognized in the conference as doing very, very well,” UW President Dick McGinity said.
Several programs offered by the athletics department help ensure student success. The department spends about $96,000 a year in wages for part-time tutoring and mentoring, which Alyson Hagy, the faculty athletics representative, said is working well.
“The graduation rates are up and keep going up; the GPA is up and going up, and the range of majors the athletes are completing is eye-popping,” she said. “We see many engineering and business management majors.”
Almost every student-athlete is making use of the in-house tutoring service, titled Office of Academic Support.
“There are six full-time staff and two graduate assistants tasked with ensuring student athletes have the correct tools to succeed,” Wille said.
He also emphasized the tutoring office isn’t only for students struggling with courses.
“There’s a negative stigma that’s associated with tutoring, but that isn’t the case,” Wille said. “It’s available for athletes that are struggling or that have a B+ and want to put it to an A.”
The office is only open to student athletes, but it works closely with other university programs open to everyone.
“The group like the Education Advisory Board, they talk about the students in the murky middle — are they getting enough support,” said Sara Axelson, vice president for student affairs. “When we rolled out STEP, that was the very focus. There are all these special populations — athletes, students that are first-generation, low-income, multicultural students, veterans — that have support, and we want to make sure all of the other students have access to similar resources.”
The STEP Center is a free support service open to all students, offering tutoring, supplemental instruction and a writing center, among other things.
There are still a few academic areas where athletics is trying to improve, Wille said.
“One of the places we want to improve is for incoming student athletes,” he said. “They stumble the most on the first semester.”
Missed classes are another problem most student athletes cannot avoid. In the 2014-2015 school year, more than 400 student athletes in 17 different sports missed more than 3,900 classes combined, averaging about five classes per semester.
Wille said working with faculty was also a part of the office.
“Additional help includes missed class coordination, general academic support, life skills training and academic tracking and reporting,” he said. “The faculty do a spectacular job working with our students on missed classes.”
The high academic numbers should keep climbing, Hagy said.
“I think we’re getting better every year,” she said. “There’s always a handful of kids that struggle, and you have to figure out if they want to work and support them academically, but I’m optimistic.”