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Students compete in the classroom, on the field

June 09, 2010

When the elevator doors open on the second floor of the Carson Student-Athlete Center of Arizona State University, a large mural greets visitors with the words: “Sun Devils GRADUATE!” It’s a goal given equal weight and effort to winning a national championship.

So it was with no surprise that student-athletes, coaches and staff at ASU reacted to this week’s news that they are ranked second in the Pac-10 Academic Progress Ratings, bested only by Stanford. It’s a point of pride they rank right up there with their 12th place in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup, given annually to the top all-around athletic department in the nation.

“When you’re talking about Arizona State, you’re talking about one of the top performing athletic programs in the country and that includes academic performance,” said Lisa Love, vice president for University Athletics. “We stand on a three-legged stool – academic achievement, championship achievement and doing it all with honor.

For more than a decade, ASU has seen a trajectory upward in terms of academic performance. It is the result of the dedication and hard work of the Office of Student-Athlete Development, led by Jean Boyd, associate athletic director, as well as the student-athletes, themselves, coaches, tutors, mentors and faculty.

ASU has had a well-developed academic support unit for student-athletes during the past 20 years, according to Boyd, as athletic departments across the country have increasingly focused energy and resources toward the academic success of their student-athletes. 

In 1997 an academic task force was convened at the university to focus on improving retention and graduation rates of student-athletes. Some important strategies were put into place such as mandatory academic advising for all student-athletes each semester, enhancements to tutoring support, and the implementation of academic mentors to work with at-risk students.

In 2003 Boyd became director of student-athlete development and implemented programs across the entire department that had been highly effective in working with football student-athletes. An assessment tool was created for all incoming and continuing student-athletes to put them in categories of low, medium and high risk.

“For the high risk students we created an individualized education plan to provide the structure and resources required to achieve academic success,” Boyd said. “For sports such as men’s Basketball, baseball, football, and wrestling, the office of student-athlete development partnered with faculty and other university support offices along with coaches to create academic improvement plans to create effective support systems. These improvement plans have been fully executed and in part are producing many of the outcomes we are seeing today.”

Men’s basketball, under head coach Herb Sendek, has seen its APR scores soar 129 points, from 843 to 972, while baseball improved from 853 to 966, and wrestling shot up from 883 to 946.

“Much of the credit goes to our student-athletes themselves,” Sendek said. “At the end of the day they’re the one’s who open their books and actually do the work. We are also really blessed here at Arizona State with a phenomenal academic support system and our sport, in particular, has had some tremendous academic coaches. We do an excellent job of meeting students’ needs – it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. Jean and his staff do a tremendous job of evaluating, of really staying on top of what a particular student needs.”

Allante Battle, a student-athlete in track and field, takes advantage of the services offered through the Office of Student-Athlete Development. A strong academic support system was important to both him and his parents – both former ASU student-athletes – when he was looking to attend college.

“I have some learning disabilities and the academic coaches help me with testing and staying on track,” said Battle, who was recently studying for finals in the student-athlete lounge. “I have two tutors and a mentor I meet with everyday and we go over what I need to work on and accomplish.”

Battle is studying sociology and education and said he may follow in the footsteps of his mother, Anna, who is principal at Desert Vista High School.

Boyd said the APR ratings, and particularly the improvements ASU teams have made under his leadership are “gratifying and humbling,” and the credit belongs to the entire ASU community that supports its students, as well as his staff.

“I’d line my team up against anyone in the country,” Boyd said. “They clock in every day to make a difference in young people’s lives.”