Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman recruitment balances sports, school

Credit: Binta Loos-Diallo

This article was co-authored by Libby Arnosti.

How much should athletic ability matter for college admission? For NCAA Division I schools, prospective athletes are often considered even if they fall outside of normal admissions criteria, and schools can offer athletic scholarships to get players to come to their school. For Division III schools like Whitman, the story is a little different.
“Regardless of whether a student is an athlete or not, the first thing is: is the student academically qualified,” said Kevin Dyerly, director of admission.

As an elite academic institution, Whitman holds itself to a standard of academic excellence which admitted students must also reflect. This standard is attractive to some athletes, who want to get a good education while continuing to participate in athletics.

“I wanted to be a student-athlete rather than an athlete who happened to be at school,” said sophomore swimmer Katie Chapman, who decided to come to Whitman over the University of Washington, a Division I school.

In order to ensure that motivated and successful student-athletes like Chapman fill the athletic rosters, the Office of Admission works closely with coaches throughout the year to address the needs and priorities of varsity programs.

“The students who’ve been identified by our coaches as priority athletes, priority recruits, who are academically qualified, are going to get very strong consideration for admission,” said Dyerly.

Dyerly said that the Office of Admission strongly considers any applicant who has the potential to contribute to a Whitman program, whether in sports, theater, debate, music or another area. This consideration is sometimes referred to as a “bump”, and allows a coach to identify a few select students who would be critical to their team.

“We have a program where coaches can identify students who might be slightly more off-profile than our median,” said Dyerly.

The most recent data for athlete admissions shows a small gap between recruited athletes and the general applicant pool. For students admitted in 2007, the average athlete high school GPA was 3.68 compared to 3.75 for non-athletes. SAT scores also varied slightly, with an athlete average of 1300 (out of 1600) compared to a non-athlete average of 1333.  Dyerly pointed out that while variance exists, it tends to be very small, and all admitted students meet Whitman’s academic standards.

Jeff Northam, who is the head coach of men’s tennis, said that he believes this policy is in Whitman’s best interest. Northam is also a Whitman alum, and believes that extracurricular activities such as athletics, debate or art contribute to a more interesting student body. For him, admitting these students makes sense, even if their GPAs are a bit lower than average.

“Maybe they got a couple of ‘B’s’ during their high school career, but they did something different,” he said.

He also pointed out that devoting a large amount of time to an extracurricular activity in high school likely means less time for studying, so a lower GPA might reflect a student’s busy schedule more than their innate academic abilities.

Once at Whitman, athletes tend to have slightly lower GPAs than their non-athletic peers. This difference is small–about 0.1 grade point on average, according to the Office of Institutional Research’s data.

Athletes also tend to have a higher average graduation rate. For the classes of 2004-2010, an average of 93.4 percent of varsity athletes graduated, compared to 86.3 percent of non-athletes. Men’s soccer coach Mike Washington attributed part of this difference to the rigors of a varsity athletic schedule.

“I think student athletes are more focused because they have to manage time better,” he said.

Coaches and admissions staff both feel that the athletic department has a good relationship with the Office of Admission. Dyerly said that coaches are very thorough in pre-screening recruits and making sure they meet Whitman’s academic standards before encouraging them to apply. The Office of Admission also works hard to make sure that athletic teams are able to have a full roster.

“We are looking to build a community of talented athletes that can support our varsity and club sports,” he said.

This can sometimes result in athletes being recruited during the summer, after the normal Whitman admissions cycle is over. In the summer of 2008, two men’s basketball players were recruited and admitted to Whitman in August before their first year.

“I made my decision in three days, packed all my stuff and the next day drove up here,” said junior David Michaels.

The men’s head basketball coach, Eric Bridgeland, who had just been hired in May of 2008, had no opportunity to recruit incoming first-years during the regular admissions cycle. In order to build his eight-person roster of returning players, Bridgeland used the summer as a last-minute recruiting opportunity.

Dylerly said this can happen for other programs as well, as long as the college has space. Class sizes tend to change slightly over the summer, as students leave Whitman’s waitlist for other schools or decide to take a gap year. Also, the actual yield rate — how many admitted students choose to come to Whitman — can be different than the rate admissions planned for, meaning that additional students can be accommodated.

“It’s not a matter of empty seats, it’s more [that] we have room,” said Katie dePonty, assistant director of admission.

Michaels said that in spite of the fact he applied during the summer, the integrity of the admissions process was upheld for him.

“I thought I was going to be able to do less of [the application] because it was so late, but [the admissions officers] were firm in the fact that they were going to treat everyone the same,” said Michaels, who completed the full application in under a week that August.

Whether a regular decision applicant or late recruit, a student’s athletic excellence does not excuse them from being held to a high academic standard.

“There’s no reason why academics have to be lowered to have very strong athletic programs,” said DePonty.

Swim coach Jenn Blomme said that she appreciates working at a school where academics are viewed as a priority. She believes that athletic scholarships, which are given out at Division I schools, would cloud her relationship with swimmers.

“Money gets in the way of relationships,” she said. “I really enjoy swimmers who are here 100 percent for the love of swimming.”

Athletic Director Dean Snider agreed that focusing on education was essential.

“If you’re going to run an athletic program in college, it needs to be about education,” he said. “DIII provides maybe the fewest distractions from an educational model, but it’s not the only place where education happens.”

Washington believes that Whitman’s recruitment strategies allow for a good balance between sports and school.

“This is a good model: excellence in the classroom, excellence on the field,” he said.

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