Academic Support for Student-Athletes

The Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) reports directly to the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. The ASPSA provides numerous academic services to student-athletes including tutoring, secondary academic and career advising, institutional and NCAA eligibility tracking, and coordination of academic honors and awards.

The Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group identified and compiled recommendations from reports over the past several years and linked each report recommendation to 21 academic processes. Report Recommendations for Academic Support for Student-Athletes

7.0 Academic Support for Student-Athletes

Student-athletes enter a demanding academic environment at UNC in which they will spend a considerable amount of time on the sport they have been recruited to play. UNC considers the background and capabilities of each student-athlete and helps them reach their academic potential. This section describes the approaches taken to accomplish this goal.

7.1 The Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes

The Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) reports directly to the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and is uniquely positioned to collaborate with faculty, the Department of Athletics and the campus community to support student-athletes. The ASPSA helps student-athletes explore their academic interests and abilities by providing numerous academic services including tutoring, secondary academic and career advising, support with institutional and NCAA eligibility tracking, and coordination of academic honors and awards. ASPSA professional staff—all educators with a degree in education, psychology, counseling or related field—guide and support student-athletes throughout their career at Carolina. The ASPSA begins working with student-athletes during recruiting and supports them through graduation.

The Assistant Provost and Director of the ASPSA reports directly to the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and attends bi-monthly Provost’s Cabinet meetings. The ASPSA staff includes:

  • 1 Assistant Provost/Director
  • 3 Associate Directors/Academic Counselors
  • 1 Associate Director/Learning Specialist
  • 7 Academic Counselors
  • 1 Tutor Coordinator/Assistant Director/Academic Counselor
  • 1 Assistant Tutor Coordinator/Academic Counselor
  • 2 Learning Specialists (1 currently vacant)
  • 2 Assistant Academic Counselors (interns)
  • 2 Assistant Learning Specialists
  • 1 Office Manager
  • 90+ Tutors and Monitors

7.2 Academic Assessment of Student-Athletes

The NCAA allows pre-screening for a possible learning disability after a student-athlete has signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) (see Process 2.2 under Admissions) or at the discretion of the University after a student-athlete has been admitted. UNC’s student-athletes are not provided any academic assessment or screening for a possible learning disability until they have been admitted to the University.  If an academic assessment is provided prior to a student-athlete matriculating to UNC, the assessment must be done in conjunction with a medical exam and the testing must take place on campus.

The ASPSA Education Questionnaire is offered to all first-year student-athletes arriving for Summer Session II and provides an initial  assessment of their academic history and academic support needs. In addition to the questionnaire, a reading, writing and text analysis assessment is also offered. The questionnaire and writing assessment provide useful insight into a student’s learning style and also can be used to determine if additional psychoeducational testing may be necessary (e.g., for undiagnosed learning disabilities). Both assessments are voluntary and require a signed release acknowledging this. Both contain confidential student information and are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Administering the questionnaire and writing assessment takes approximately two hours. Doing so during Summer Session II allows the ASPSA to take advantage of the time that they have with the incoming student-athletes who choose to attend summer school (approximately 1/3 of first-year student-athletes, or about 60 students, attend Summer Session II). Incoming student-athletes arriving any other semester are provided with a short version of the ASPSA Education Questionnaire. If there are any indications that a student-athlete might have some specific academic challenges, the student can work with a learning specialist and can be referred for further psychoeducational testing at any time.

See also Process 10.0 Resources for Student-Athletes with Disabilities for more information about initial screening and, when applicable, learning disabilities assessment.

7.3 ASPSA Academic Services

Regardless of the level of academic support that a student-athlete may need, all incoming student-athletes, including transfer students, participate in the My Academic Plan (MAP) program. Taking a collaborative support model approach, Academic Counselors and Learning Specialists collaborate to customize student-athletes’ MAPs based on the student’s academic preparedness, course schedule and individual needs. This approach was piloted in 2014 and has evolved and improved over several semesters.

The Collaborative Support Model interplays with the MAP program and represents a cooperative effort within the ASPSA to consider a student’s needs, courses, and academic preparedness to assess and identify the academic support and services that should be included the MAP. The collaborative approach involves matching a student-athlete with an ASPSA Learning Specialist and structuring his/her tutoring and group study sessions appropriately. The Learning Specialists, Academic Counselors, and Tutor Coordinator meet before the beginning of each term to discuss each student-athlete’s MAP. They meet again mid-semester to make necessary adjustments to the MAP.

The ASPSA collaborates with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Academic Advising Program, Career Services and professional school advising to provide the following academic services to UNC’s 800+ student-athletes:

  • Student guidance and academic schedule planning
  • Course planning
  • Major selection
  • Degree progress
  • Academic and career advising

The ASPSA also provides other services:

  • Serve as liaisons with faculty (i.e. travel letters, grade reporting, proctoring services)
  • Meet with prospective student-athletes and families during recruiting
  • Report academic progress to coaches, faculty and administration
  • Collaborate with the Office of the University Registrar on the determination of UNC and NCAA Eligibility
  • Administration of the Student-Athlete Scholarship and Awards Committee
  • Serve on University committees including the University Retention Working Group and the Admissions Advisory Committee.

The ASPSA is housed in the Loudermilk Center for Excellence, a 150,000-square-foot building that serves all of Carolina’s 28 varsity sports. The Loudermilk Center’s largest feature is the John W. Pope Student-Athlete Academic Support Center. This 29,000-square-foot facility provides classrooms for teaching and tutoring, study lounges, office space and a computer lab.

7.4 Guiding Principles for Academic Support for Student-Athletes

UNC is committed to supporting student-athletes in their academic endeavors. Faculty members, instructors, advisors, academic counselors, learning specialists and others who work with student-athletes serve with integrity and have mutual respect for one another and the important role that each one plays. When coordinating academic support services for student-athletes, all of these individuals follow a framework of guiding principles set forth below.

Principles Guiding Contact Between Faculty and Academic Support Programs for Student-Athletes (ASPSA)

  • Student-athletes are students first.
  • Decisions about academic content, requirements and expectations are the exclusive domain of faculty, subject to University, College and Department rules.
  • Contact between the ASPSA and faculty focuses on ways to foster student learning and emphasizes students’ personal responsibility. Topics of conversation include academic performance, class attendance and behavior.
  • ASPSA Academic Counselors often serve as liaisons between student-athletes and instructors. This relationship fosters proactive communication between student-athletes and their professors.
  • ASPSA does not attempt to pressure faculty to provide special treatment for student-athletes or attempt to influence student-athletes’ grades.
  • Faculty do not impose standards or requirements on student-athletes that are greater than those required of other students in the same classroom.
  • Faculty do not ask the ASPSA what grade (final or otherwise) a student-athlete requires to remain eligible. Further, the ASPSA does not offer this information.

Principles Guiding Contact Between Faculty and Coaches

To safeguard student-athletes’ privacy, all communication regarding student-athletes’ grades or academic performance must be coordinated through the ASPSA. Specifically:

  • Coaches and their staff (including, but not limited to, the director of operations and administrative assistants) may not initiate contact with student-athletes’ course instructors for the purpose of soliciting or discussing information related to an individual student-athlete’s grades and/or academic performance.
  • This prohibition extends to any academic personnel (including, but not limited to, teaching assistants) who are responsible for assigning or grading a student-athlete’s course work.
  • Coaches should not discuss any academic matters with class checkers (see Process 9.3 Class Checking Policy). These individuals are hired specifically and exclusively only to check students’ class attendance.
  • Coaches may have contact with individual faculty members when student-athletes ask their professors to shadow them at practice or attend a home competition. Most faculty members see this interaction as beneficial to the faculty/student relationship as it provides a sense of a day in the life of a UNC student-athlete. This contact is permissible by UNC and NCAA policies. 

Principles Guiding Contact Between ASPSA Staff and Student-Athletes

  • Student-athletes are students first.
  • Discussions between ASPSA staff and student-athletes focus on ways to foster student learning and emphasize students’ personal responsibility. Topics of conversation include academic performance, class attendance and behavior.
  • Discussions also focus on student-athletes’ well-being and their individual academic interests and career plans. To this end, ASPSA staff offer advice and guidance with respect to courses and majors. The ASPSA also helps a student-athlete advocate for him/herself when interacting with instructors. 

Resources

Instructors, administrators, coaches or students with questions or concerns may consult any or all of the following resources:

7.5 Academic Counselors

Each of UNC’s 28 intercollegiate teams has a designated ASPSA Academic Counselor assigned to work with its players from the time of student-athlete recruitment, orientation and enrollment, throughout the student’s career at UNC, and beyond graduation.

Most teams have only one assigned Academic Counselor. Due to the size of the team (approximately 120 student-athletes), football has four Academic Counselors.

Academic Counselors organize a mandatory meeting with their designated team(s) at the beginning of each academic term. Throughout the semester, Counselors spend the majority of their time meeting with individual student-athletes to help them navigate their course loads and manage their time appropriately. Academic Counselors regularly work after business hours to lead counselor-guided study halls and provide general monitoring of the academic center, which is open until 10:00 p.m. Counselors for football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball regularly travel with their teams to help with study hall and provide other academic support (e.g., pre-approved exam proctoring, see Process 9.5). Academic Counselors also review student-athletes’ course loads to ensure that they meet UNC and NCAA guidelines and regularly monitor student-athletes’ academic progress to ensure that they maintain UNC and NCAA eligibility.

Academic Counselors maintain regular contact with team coaches and send a weekly report to coaches that includes individual commentary on each student-athlete’s academic progress, weekly completion of My Academic Plan (see Process 7.6 below) and weekly tutorial statistics. Some Academic Counselors (football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball) meet with coaches during weekly scheduled meetings. Academic Counselors for other teams communicate with coaches in a less structured manner and meet as needed.

Post-graduation, Academic Counselors assist student-athletes by writing recommendations for jobs and graduate school applications. Academic Counselors also work with the Academic Advising Program (AAP) to assist student-athletes who have left UNC and return to finish their degree (see Process 19.0, Complete Carolina).

7.6 My Academic Plan (MAP) Program

Identified student-athletes are given a MAP (My Academic Plan), an individualized academic plan based on a student’s needs, academic preparedness and courses. As part of the MAP program, Academic Counselors work with student-athletes as they transition from high school to college (or for transfer students, from another institution to UNC), teach student-athletes to balance the demands of athletics and academics, focus on building effective study skills and fostering self-reliance, and support independent learning.

Student-athletes are identified to follow a MAP based on the following:

  • All incoming student-athletes (first-years and transfers)
  • All student-athletes with a cumulative GPA < 2.5
  • All student-athletes with UNC and/or NCAA academic eligibility issues

A MAP may include the following components:

  • Individual weekly meetings with an Academic Counselor
  • Academic Counselor-led guided study hall
  • Guided study hall
  • Independent study hall hours
  • Tutoring (group and individual sessions)
  • Individual weekly meetings with a Learning Specialist
  • Individual weekly meetings with an Assistant Learning Specialist

An important component of the MAP involves the student-athlete meeting with his/her Academic Counselor to identify goals, both for the semester and long-term. The student-athlete puts together a plan to meet these goals and monitors progress with his/her Academic Counselor.

7.7 Tutoring

The ASPSA’s Tutoring Coordinator and Assistant Tutoring Coordinator manage the assignments and appointments of approximately 90 part-time tutors who are alumni, graduate students, educators and other members of the Chapel Hill community with at least a bachelor’s degree (some have graduate degrees) who have specialized experience in a variety of fields.

7.7.1 Tutor Hiring and Training

All ASPSA tutors must have completed their undergraduate degrees. (Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the ASPSA Director. Undergraduate tutors are hired only under special circumstances and must be approved by the ASPSA Director.)  Undergraduate tutors are paid $12 per hour and all other tutors are paid at a rate of $15-$18 per hour.

Tutors must participate in a minimum of four hours of training prior to working with UNC’s student-athletes. Tutors receive a Tutor Manual which explicitly details guidelines for providing appropriate help to student-athletes. Upon completion of training, tutors are required to sign an “Academic Honesty and Confidentiality Agreement.” The ASPSA provides additional tutor training throughout the semester to review policies and discuss practical application of tutor protocol. An additional level of training is provided to writing tutors by the ASPSA Reading and Writing Specialist.

All tutors are observed by an ASPSA staff member two times per year. An official observation of a tutoring session occurs every semester to ensure that the material is provided effectively and that tutoring policies are being followed. At the end of each semester the ASPSA administers an online anonymous survey to the student-athletes who participated in the tutoring program to give them the opportunity to evaluate each of their tutors as well as the tutoring program in general. The survey response rate is high and provides helpful feedback.

At the end of each semester, tutors must sign the “Academic Honesty Testimonial” and “Academic Integrity Statement Addendum” to confirm that they did not participate in or observe any UNC or NCAA violations. Tutors also complete an online evaluation of the tutoring program. When a tutor’s employment ends, he/she receives a letter from the ASPSA stating that tutors must continue to comply with UNC and NCAA policies that govern student/tutor interaction.

7.7.2 Tutor Assignment and Scheduling

At the beginning of the fall term, during the Academic Counselor’s mandatory team meeting, each student-athlete is required to sign the “Student Tutor Usage Agreement” and return it to an Academic Counselor, regardless of whether he/she needs tutoring at that time. Requests for tutoring are made primarily by an Academic Counselor on behalf of a student-athlete as part of his/her Academic Plan (MAP) or upon a student’s request.

All tutoring appointments are scheduled as standing weekly sessions throughout the entire semester. Most tutoring sessions are scheduled in the evenings Sunday-Thursday, although some sessions are scheduled during the daytime.

All tutoring sessions must occur in the Loudermilk Center for Excellence according to the schedule established for the tutor. Additional sessions must be approved by the tutorial staff. Tutor appointments are structured as one-on-one, small group, or drop-in group tutoring sessions.

Tutoring is offered to all student-athletes; students in the MAP program have priority for services and generally receive more tutoring. The ASPSA prioritizes tutoring for student-athletes with GPAs below 2.5 in the MAP program, but they assess a student’s need for tutoring on a case-by-case basis (e.g., a student with an identified learning disability who may not be in the MAP program).

In addition to referring them for tutoring, Academic Counselors also may direct some students to help sessions within an academic department, or to the Writing Center, the Learning Center, or to Dey Hall for UNC’s peer tutoring program.

7.7.3 Student-Athletes Hiring Private Tutors Outside of the ASPSA

Student-athletes may hire their own tutors outside of ASPSA; however, this requires student-athletes to forfeit their opportunity to utilize ASPSA tutorial services for that same course. Student-athletes who wish to hire their own tutors must sign a “Private Tutor Information” form that discloses how much they have agreed to pay the tutor. The tutor must also sign the form, which is initiated and required by the ASPSA. The Department of Athletics Compliance Office also receives a copy in case an audit is necessary. Private tutors receive a tutor manual from the ASPSA. Inappropriate assistance from a tutor impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility. The number of student-athletes receiving tutoring outside of the ASPSA has decreased and is rare, thanks to expanded tutoring sessions.

If a student-athlete hires a private tutor:

  • Coaches may not hire or pay for a private tutor for a student-athlete. Student-athletes must pay for their own private tutors.
  • Student-athletes must be informed and reminded of the policy regarding hiring a private tutor (see above). Compliance with this policy depends solely on the student’s self-disclosure.
  • The student-athlete must sign a “Private Tutor Information” form, provided by the ASPSA.
  • If demand suffices for a particular private tutor, he/she may be hired as an ASPSA tutor, in which case he/she will be paid to participate in the mandatory training.

If frequent unmet needs for tutoring become evident, Athletics will consider increasing the tutoring budget to expand tutoring to more student-athletes.

7.7.4 Tutoring Notes

After each tutoring session a tutor completes a session description form (“Feedback Form”) that describes what was covered during the session and any comments on the student’s performance or behavior. Tutoring notes are manually scanned and distributed to Academic Counselors the morning after a tutoring session.

7.7.5 Observation of Tutors

Throughout the semester, Tutor Coordinators, with the assistance of Learning Specialists, observe tutors conducting their tutoring. The purpose of the observation is to ensure that the material is provided effectively and tutoring policies are being followed. For Fall 2014, approximately 83% of the tutors were observed and received feedback, and the number increased to 100% for Spring 2016.

7.7.6 Tutoring Infraction Report

Student-athletes are required to attend their tutoring appointments. The ASPSA clearly communicates the tutoring attendance and cancellation policy during team meetings, and also explains this policy in the “Student Tutor Usage Agreement.” If a student-athlete must miss a tutoring session (individual or group), or a tutor-led guided-study session, he/she must submit an email to aspsatutoring@unc.edu no later than 2:00 p.m. on the day of the session, allowing the ASPSA tutoring staff time to contact the tutors via email to inform them of these cancellations. Academic Counselors track all tutoring attendance. If a student-athlete misses his/her tutoring appointment without an approved cancellation, his/her Academic Counselor often will notify the coach as soon as possible. At the end of each week, ASPSA tutoring staff generate an email to student-athletes with any infractions for that week, and their Coaches are copied on this message.

7.8 Learning Specialists

Learning Specialists help students learn how to learn. They coach student-athletes on time management and academic skill building, and also work one-on-one with academically at-risk student-athletes and those who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. The ASPSA assigns students to work with a Learning Specialist based on fit rather than by team. The Learning Specialists also assist with tutor training to provide instruction in reading/writing, coordinate the Graduate Learning Assistant program (2 learning assistants), and coordinate psychoeducational screening and testing for identification of learning disabilities and assigned services. The LEEP program (Learning Engagement and Enhancement Program) for academically at-risk student-athletes was started in 2012. In 2013 LEEP was replaced by the MAP program.

Learning Specialists also work with student-athletes who are not necessarily at-risk academically, but who are striving to improve their academic skills and become better students.

7.9 Assistant Academic Counselors and Assistant Learning Specialists

The ASPSA Assistant Academic Counselors and Assistant Learning Specialists have advanced degrees in areas such as Education and/or several years of experience working with students along with a minimum of an undergraduate degree.  The Assistant Academic Counselors typically have fewer years of experience working with high school to college aged students or student-athletes as compared to full-time Academic Counselors.

The initial training that Assistant Academic Counselors receive is very similar to the training of full-time academic counselors except that they do not receive all of the instruction regarding majors and technology from the Arts and Sciences Academic Advising Program; Assistant Academic Counselors’ responsibilities do not require this extensive knowledge.

Assistant Learning Specialists receive extensive training at the commencement of their employment. Ongoing, Assistant Learning Specialists attend a weekly meeting with the Learning Specialist Unit to provide continuous training opportunities including reviewing best practices, comparing strategies to employ with specific student-athletes and discussing current topics.

7.10 Student-Athlete Academic Awards and Scholarships

(see also Process 13.3 Student-Athlete Academic Awards and Scholarships)

The Student-Athlete Academic Awards committee includes members of the Department of Athletics, the ASPSA, and the Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR). The committee works to identify and nominate outstanding student-athletes for numerous academic awards, scholarships and internships. In Spring 2014, the committee organized and held the first Scholar-Athlete Academic Awards Banquet. The Banquet is now held annually in the spring, and is separate from the Department of Athletics’ Rammy Awards and the Carolina Leadership Academy’s Recognition Banquet.