New UNC policy forces athletes to pay for their own tutors
Sophomore J.P. Gaylor came to UNC for its strong academics and his spot on the swim team. As a student athlete, he thought he would have access to the academic support services designed to help him straddle those two commitments. But that ended up not being the case.
A new University policy enacted in July means athletes unable to find the one-on-one attention they thought would be available must now find and pay for it on their own.
And the option of hiring a private tutor comes at the cost of giving up access to the academic support program that was used to recruit them.
Gaylor found out about the policy last semester when he approached his department-assigned academic counselor to request a one-on-one tutor for an economics class.
The counselor checked with the tutorial coordinator, who couldn’t find a tutor for him. The counselor relayed the message to Gaylor, who still wanted a tutor. So he was told he’d have to hire one out-of-pocket.
“(To get my own tutor,) I would have to go through compliance and have to prove that I was paying for it myself and that the tutor wasn’t receiving any benefit from the athletic department,” he said.
And he would have to pay for it. The new policy forbids athletes from using tutors’ services for free.
The rate for a tutor on the UNC Learning Center’s “Tutors for Hire” page is $7 to $10 per hour on the low end, but many charge $20 to $30 per hour and some more than that.
Besides the monetary cost, the private tutor policy means private tutor use reduces athlete access to athletic academic support services.
If an athlete uses a subject-specific tutor, he or she cannot receive help in that class from the athletic department for the rest of the semester. Using a general tutor means no academic support services at all for the rest of the semester.
Gaylor didn’t get that far, though. Discouraged, he gave up his pursuit of a one-on-one tutor and instead attended group economics sessions where he received less individual attention. He said he ended up doing fine in the class but was still upset.
“I can do pretty well on my own,” he said. “I was frustrated because the resources are there for athletes, but I couldn’t use them.”
The athletic tutoring program was a big draw for Gaylor when he visited for recruiting trips, he said.
His coach, Rich DeSelm, said the Loudermilk Center for Excellence is a major selling point for prospective student athletes.
“I think we compete facility-wise with anyone,” he said of the center. “It is a huge recruiting piece.”
For the past five years, the department had a staff of 70 to 80 tutors to help UNC’s nearly 800 athletes, said Harold Woodard, interim director of academic support for student athletes.
But that number has dropped considerably. There are 50 tutors on staff, down from 74 last year.
Part of the athletic department’s response to the 2010 NCAA investigation was to use more graduate students or professionals in its tutoring program. About 40 percent of athletic tutors were undergraduates before UNC cut down on their use. There is just one this year.
Graduate student and professional tutors are costlier than undergraduates, so the department can’t afford as many. Because of this, the tutoring budget has doubled to $405,000 since 2010.
Woodard said the department made the shift because graduate students and professionals were more experienced working with undergraduate students and more knowledgeable about their subject areas.
Because the University has fewer academic support resources available, it has to apportion them more carefully. Students in more popular classes or with more need get more access.
One measure of academic need is the NCAA’s academic progress rate. The APR is a 1,000-point figure measuring the academic eligibility and graduation rates of students on athletic scholarship.
If an athlete’s GPA falls below the minimum required for good standing, which at UNC is a 2.0, the team loses a point. The same happens if the athlete fails to graduate in six years or drops out. Exceptions are made if athletes leave school early in good standing for professional sports careers.
At the end of the year, a team counts its points, divides them by their point allotment, and multiplies it by 1,000 to figure out its APR.
An APR of 930 is considered a 50 percent graduation rate. By the 2014-15 school year, programs at Division I football bowl series schools must achieve a 940 APR to compete in postseason play.
The most recently published multiyear APR rates for male swimmers and football players are 997 and average of 943, respectively.
Exacerbating Gaylor’s frustration over the lack of access for non-revenue athletes like himself is the seeming ease with which football and men’s basketball players got the help he wanted.
“The only people who get to take advantage of it are the two revenue sports,” he said.
Woodard admitted that not everyone has the same level of access to tutorial services.
“Those who have more of a challenge in the coursework request more help,” he said. “So yes, you would have more requests from the revenue sports.”
In addition to the academic needs of the large-roster, low-APR football team, there is a financial incentive for the athletic department to shift its tutorial resources their way.
Football generated 35 percent of the department’s revenue last year, according to Department of Education data. Further sanctions against the football program could reduce funding for other sports.
Gaylor acknowledged that some athletes might need the department’s academic support more than him. But that doesn’t reduce his frustration.
“I don’t think that’s an excuse to keep the hundreds of other athletes from being able to use the same resources,” he said.
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