System schools discount clustering

Two years after evidence of academic misconduct at UNC-CH surfaced, several UNC-system schools are launching investigations to ensure they are not making the same mistakes.

While UNC-CH has still not determined whether major clustering — which occurs when 25 percent or more of an athletic team’s players take the same major — is a problem for the campus, other schools have found nothing to worry about.

The summer investigations at Appalachian State University and East Carolina University were prompted by the evidence of a higher percentage of athletes in some African and Afro-American Studies classes at UNC-CH.

Athlete clustering

The top five most popular majors for UNC-CH athletes are:

1. Exercise and Sport Science
2. Communication
3. Business
4. Journalism & Mass Communication
5. Management and Society

But ASU and ECU, along with UNC-Charlotte and N.C. State University, have not found clustering to be a major issue for them.

Former Gov. Jim Martin’s review into UNC-CH athletics might investigate major clustering, said Joy Renner, chairwoman of the University’s faculty athletics committee.

The consulting firm assisting in Martin’s review, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, declined to comment on whether the investigation would consider athlete clustering.

Renner said the faculty athletics committee would decide how to investigate major clustering after Martin presents his findings to the UNC-system Board of Governors.

Advisers play an important role in preventing this type of academic misconduct, said Kim Sherrill, ASU’s director of academic services for student athletes.

“If I have a student athlete that is undecided, I treat them the exact same way I do the general student body,” she said.

Carrie Leger, N.C. State’s associate director of athletics for academics, said engaging students in the advising process is essential to prevent major clustering.

Harold Woodard, interim director of UNC-CH’s academic support program for student athletes, said at the program’s advisory committee meeting in September that academic advising needs to provide more guidance to athletes.

His department helps the University’s 800 athletes find a balance between athletics and academics, he said.

“Some people might think academic counselors exist to make the lives of athletes easier or give them some unfair advantage — that’s not true,” he said.

Woodard said all students look for easier classes to have balance in their schedules.

Mike Stanley, ASU’s director of internal audits, said students tend to take classes with their friends — and athletes are no different.

Stanley also said the limitations of athletes’ schedules can cause certain classes or majors to be more popular among athletes.

“Clustering is a national trend,” he said.

Players on ASU’s football team take 40 different majors, with no more than 8.8 percent of the team’s players enrolled in any one major — far below the 25 percent level equated with clustering.

Some level of major and course clustering was to be expected, even for non-athletes, Stanley said.

Both Sherrill and Leger said some types of major clustering are legitimate.

“I’m less concerned with major clustering if student athletes are pursuing degrees that are aligned with their skills and interests, like sports management,” Leger said.

According to the NCAA, 84 percent of former student athletes said they would have chosen the same major had they not been athletes.

“Clustering is not always bad if athletes are pursuing what they are interested in,” Leger said.

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