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Student-athlete working group reviews early enrollment

The Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group might recommend changing UNC's handling of student-athletes who enroll early, depending on whether its research shows existing methods successfully fold new students into the academic and social fabric of the University.

Group members discussed both the merits and drawbacks of encouraging students to either graduate half a year early from high school or allowing students to matriculate half a year later than most freshmen.

Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, said a typical January in UNC will see the addition of six to eight new student athletes, along with a handful of transfer student-athletes. He said he thinks 12 or 13 new student-athletes enrolled in UNC this January.

Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham talked about grayshirting, another opportunity for student-athletes to matriculate half a year later than their classmates and teammates.

“Grayshirting occurs when you recruit students out of high school and ask them to defer six months after graduation, which has to do with the amount of scholarships you are able to offer that year,” Cunningham said.

Farmer said generally non-athlete freshmen do not enroll halfway through an academic year, though some transfer students do.

Joy Renner, chairwoman of the Faculty Athletics Committee, expressed concern over possible obstacles standing in the path of students enrolled in January that students who enrolled in the beginning of the academic year do not face.

“A lot of faculty assume students have been here for a semester by spring and expect students to be prepared for everything,” Renner said. “I’m not sure there is as much give and take.”

Farmer said research conducted by UNC’s Committee on Special Talent shows students who have enrolled in January have effectively adapted to the academic and social culture of a university setting.

“The students enrolling in January have actually done a little better than the students who enrolled in the fall, and a little better than where we expected them to be,” he said.

Michelle Brown, director of the academic support program for student-athletes, made the cautionary statement that, though results look good, the sample size is too limited to make a generalization about all student-athletes.

“The numbers are so small that it’s difficult to make sweeping statements,” Brown said.

Lissa Broome, the faculty athletics representative to the ACC and NCAA, said if enough room is not saved in general education courses all UNC students are required to take, student-athletes enrolling in January might not get the instruction about the honor system that students in freshman English receive.

Brown countered this by saying student-athletes matriculating halfway through the year receive an orientation session in January that includes individuals from UNC’s Honor Court and English department to talk about the honor code and proper methods of citation.

“In doing so, we not only tell them, ‘Don’t do that,’ we say, ‘Here are the tools to do it properly,’” Brown said.

Darcy McFarlane, sophomore soccer player, told the group of a personal experience of early enrollment. She said a new player came to UNC last January after graduating from high school half a year earlier than expected. The player had torn her ACL that fall, and, by enrolling early, she benefitted both from treatment by UNC’s sports medicine program and from acclimating to life in college during her team’s off-season.

“It worked better for her, because when our season started in the fall, she was used to it,” McFarlane said. “She wasn’t just thrown in.”

Broome said most of the student-athletes enrolling in January are football players, and enrolling hallway through the year enables them to have more time to prove themselves in the context of team training.

“Many students might think there’s more of a chance they could play, because they’ll train with the team and have a better chance to get on the field,” Broome said.

McFarlane said the option to enroll in UNC beginning in the off-season allows players to consider pursuing professional playing opportunities earlier than if they had enrolled at the beginning of an academic year.

“I know my sister had to join her pro team late, because she wasn’t going to graduate early,” McFarlane said of her sister, Kelly McFarlane, who also played soccer for UNC.

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The working group ultimately decided to research the long-term effects of mid-year enrollment on student-athletes before making decisions about altered course offerings and recommendations on revised orientation sessions.

“I just want us to be proactive instead of reactive,” Renner said. “I want this to be an intentional decision. And if it’s something we want to do, I want us to give it the resources it needs.”