Student-Athletes in a Different Light

FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2012 file photo, a Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford Univers
FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2012 file photo, a Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif. Congressional inaction could end up costing college students an extra $5,000 on their new loans. The rate for subsidized Stafford loans is set to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, just as millions of new college students start signing up for fall courses. The difference between the two rates adds up to $6 billion. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

During certain times of the year, a spotlight is turned on collegiate athletics and the student-athletes that star in games seen on television and computer screens across the country. And it seems like every year during these times, there are discussions that center on wins, losses, who will stay, who will go pro, and other items that, frankly, are outside of what the real focus of universities and colleges is -- educating students to succeed in life. In college athletics, emphasis on what makes a successful program seems to be shifting away from long-term program and student success to more of a "what have you done for me lately" mentality.

Oregon Tech is a public polytechnic university, and is an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) university. The NAIA emphasizes citizenship and character through its Champions of Character initiative, which is noted on the NAIA website as creating " environment in which every student-athlete, coach, official and spectator is committed to the true spirit of competition through five core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership." This fits with the vision we have at Oregon Tech of the values we want our athletic program to have.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for any university student who manages to find time for extracurricular activities, including such things as work, student government, clubs, athletics, and other time-consuming activities. My respect is enhanced even more for students who are in extracurricular activities in rigorous, high-quality academic programs. Oregon Tech serves a statewide mission that focuses on STEM bachelor-level degrees, which are tough programs, often requiring intense courses in math, science, biology, health sciences, and engineering, to note just a few. And Oregon Tech is on the quarter system (three ten-week terms), which means that classes meet almost every day of the week each term.

So when our teams travel for away games, which takes as little as 90 minutes and as long as 10 hours of travel by bus, students miss classes and have to spend their time studying during the trips and in the down times when they are in motels waiting to practice and play. Added to those demands during the season is the constant and challenging practice schedule, which coaches and student-athletes work hard to schedule at times when there are no classes (we have more student-athletes on our campus at 6 a.m. and after 4 p.m. than most people realize).

As if the demand on student-athlete time vis-à-vis class schedules isn't grueling enough, none of our student-athletes currently has a so-called full-ride scholarship covering room, board, books, tuition, fees, etc. We currently distribute a total of ~$620K per year in student aid (not including Pell Grants and other aid that is not controlled by the institution) among 201 student-athletes. And of the ~$620K in total support, only ~$374K is athletic support, which is distributed among 130 of our 201 total student-athletes, with the rest coming from aid based on grades, need, etc.

I know this is somewhat detailed, but the point is that our student-athletes average ~$3,100/year in institution-controlled aid. This helps offset some of their tuition and fees, but does not cover it all -- there is no free ride.

We also honor our commitments to our student-athletes at Oregon Tech. We do not ever want to be one of those universities at which yearly athletic performance is assessed in order to decide whether or not to offer the next year of a scholarship. If a student-athlete is offered a scholarship, works hard to perform, and maintains a GPA that will keep them in good standing at Oregon Tech, we honor our commitment to that student-athlete throughout the duration of his/her eligibility. Yes, this means that we are driven less by wins and losses and driven more by the total student-athlete experience. Good coaches are good leaders and instill leadership qualities in the young people who play for them. Honoring commitments is just one quality of good leadership.

We've been successful athletically with this approach -- our men's college basketball coach (Danny Miles) has the second-most career wins of any men's basketball coach at any level of college athletics, three men's basketball national titles since 2004, one softball national title in 2011, the 2011 NAIA champion decathlete, and many individual and team conference regular-season and tournament titles.

By now, you might assume that (a) our student-athletes must have some sort of easy major to which they all gravitate, or (b) they must be just getting by in their classes. As for item (a), there isn't and they don't, and for item (b), the student-athletes on ten of our eleven teams last year had cumulative GPAs that were greater than 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale with no plus and minus grades). As a result, many of our student-athletes also have academic scholarships to help pay for their education (in fact, some have only academic scholarships).

Part of the GPA success of our student-athletes is that we have learned over the years that it takes a remarkably accomplished young woman or man to put in all of the time required to be successful in collegiate-level athletics and to succeed academically at Oregon Tech. A few of our student-athletes are double majors, and some compete and even star in two sports!

I'm very proud of all of our students at Oregon Tech. I'm very happy that we are an NAIA-affiliated university. And, especially as a university president, I am proud to see our students graduate and lead successful lives as Oregon Tech alumni. We really do emphasize the student in student-athlete. In many respects, this was summarized by one of our former student-athletes, now one of our alumni, who said, "I came to Oregon Tech so that I could continue to play basketball in college. I acquired a degree and a great career as part of the deal." What more could faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, and supporters of a university hope to achieve with an athletic program?