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Advisers, Athletes Team Up to Close the Educational Gap

Advisers, Athletes Team Up to Close the Educational Gap

We live in a society of educational gaps. Educational gaps refer to knowledge and information deficits that students bring with them to college. Because students are products of their social backgrounds and circumstances, they are often unaware of these learning deficits. Gaps can be observed between the middle class and the working class; between city and suburban residents; between foreign and native-born; and between Blacks and Whites. These gaps, however, can be closed. Although people do not start the educational race on equal ground, they can be made competitive. This is particularly true of the student-athlete.
The student-athlete is faced with several problems upon entering college; not the least of which is the uncertainty and winnowing of the recruitment process that takes place from high school to college. Most are aware that they made it to college because of their athletic skills and not their academic skills. A few can manage being a student and a college athlete without problems, but most require special advising and academic support. Herein lies the challenge for the academic counselor.
The counselor’s role is to outline the differences between the student-athlete and his or her fellow students. Most of these fellow students arrive at college with better high-school grades and more preparation. These students rely on academic skills to build their reputation in college. They often see the college athlete as a campus celebrity and not as a competitor in the classroom, often holding on to stereotypes of the “dumb” athlete. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the student-athlete to prove otherwise.
The counselor’s first task is to identify the academic ambition of the student-athlete. Many student-athletes have a simple objective — to remain eligible. Here, the goal is to maintain a GPA that will keep them on the team. This means the athlete only has to exercise minimum study effort, attend classes, ask questions in class and request tutoring as necessary. Many find this level of performance appealing. And some coaches unwillingly encourage their players to accept the minimum.
If a student-athlete decides to be competitive with his fellow students, then he or she must do more than the minimum. The passing C is not good enough. They must complete assignments at a higher quality, do extra reading, go to study sessions, participate in class discussion and talk to the professor after class and during office hours. For those who want to be more than competitive and excel in their classes, the task is more laborious. To close the gap, become competitive and possibly lead their fellow students, student-athletes must work even harder. This means studying before and after class as well as spending part of the summer and off-season preparing for the next semester.
To achieve any of these goals, the counselor and student must establish a plan — an individualized structured plan that will focus on study skills. The counselor also has to explain the level of work that will get the student an A and what will get a C. This might sound simple, but many students have no idea why other students make higher grades, or why they work so hard and get lower grades.
Overall, counselors have to be alert to the needs of all student-athletes and their ambitions for college. Counselors must discuss these ambitions and be prepared to assist the student-athletes to achieve them. By becoming partners in the learning progress, the counselor, the professor and the student become a team in the education race. 

— Isadore A. Rich is a counselor and academic adviser for athletics at Kentucky State University in Frankfort.

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