Getting in the game

By Douglas J. Guth

Community colleges focus on helping student-athletes succeed.

Community college scholar-athletes share some key traits with the general student population, observers say. Many are first-generation university students coming from unstructured environments, and often don’t have the grades or financial backing needed for a four-year college or university. But athletes also encounter scheduling challenges their traditional peers don’t, necessitating careful deliberation in how they balance their academic and personal lives with a heavy sports load.

“Student-athletes do everything non-athletes do, plus more,” says Lily Mozafari, academic athletic counselor at West Los Angeles College. “There’s a pressure to succeed academically in a more structured and limited time frame.”

West has 250 students playing 11 sports, assisted by an Athletic Counseling Office that stresses high classroom achievement beyond the recognized benchmarks.

“The standard academic rules at the community college level are not going to be enough for kids to move on to a four-year school,” Mozafari says. “So we’ve got to articulate to student-athletes that while a 2.0 gets you to play here, you’re going to need a higher GPA to transfer.”

West’s athletic department shaped its student education plan based on California Community College Athletic Association guidelines as well as NCAA and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) transfer rules. Mozafari tracks performance via grade checks twice a semester, implementing strategies to raise a struggling student’s marks or maintain their minimum accumulation of credit hours. Performance reports are sent to coaches and the college athletic director at the end of each semester, ideally bolstered by mandatory study halls and other programming designed to keep athletes on the path to completion.

Constant dialogue between coaches and academic staff is crucial. For example, Mozafari recently had a student-athlete return to English class after their professor reported a series of unexcused absences to the athletic office.

“We’re in a bubble here with sports, but you need to have that bridge between the athletic department and your instructors,” Mozafari says. “When I communicate with faculty and they communicate with me, we’ll be on the same page to find out how we can help students.”

This is part of a longer article that will be featured in the upcoming August/September issue of Community College Journal – hitting mailboxes in early August.

Doug Guth
Douglas J. Guth

is a writer based in Ohio.