Hawks’ GPA on the rise

January 24, 2017

As Director of the Fitness and Recreation Center and Athletics, Ryan Knox has great responsibility when it comes to athletes, including their academic performance. Even though he’s relatively new to the position (less than one year), he had a goal: to help athletes collectively raise their grade point average (GPA). It wasn’t an arbitrary objective, either; it’s written as a goal on his official human resource evaluation.

 “It may have been risky to have it documented as my own, but it put the pressure on,” commented Knox.

The Result

The pressure paid off. Once final grades were reported for the fall 2016 semester, the athletic department saw GPAs rise to 2.83. On top of exceeding his goal, Knox notes this is the highest fall GPA athletics has ever had since its start in 2007.

Making it Happen

Not only did Heartland athletes put in the work for academic success, a lot of effort was happening behind the scenes with advisors, professors and coaches working together.

Associate Director of Advisement and Assessment, Rachel Cook, helps ensure athletes stay on track academically. She says established initiatives such as grade checks and academic success plans as well as new implementations like more study tables and an at-risk indicator, helped raise the athletes’ GPA.

Modeled after the NCAA graduation risk overview for four-year athletes, Cook describes the indicator as a formula that takes into account several characteristics of an athlete, such as ACT scores, whether or not the athlete is a first generation college student, learning challenges and their general views on athletics. After inputting data, the indicator provides a risk number that tells Cook, Knox and coaches who might need a little extra attention when it comes to academic performance.

Perhaps the biggest impact made on academic performance was a change to the class attendance policy. Previously, each sport had their own policy, now it’s department-wide. If an athlete has an unexcused absence, they do not play in their next scheduled contest.

“Right away, I think the players found it kind of shocking, but they quickly learned it was a serious policy so they took it seriously,” said Knox.

Should an athlete need to miss a class, they are required to go through Knox. Professors, trainers, doctors and parents are permitted to submit an excused absence. Coaches are not. Knox feels this policy helps athletes understand the privilege of playing collegiate sports. “Their first job is to learn. They already miss class because of games. This policy helps them stay on track.”

Cook adds that the attendance policy helps give a positive reflection of athletes. “They have a lot of expectations, so athletes need to make sure they manage their time appropriately. We want professors to look forward to having athletes in the classroom.”

Next Steps

Knox hopes athletes can eventually raise their cumulative GPA to 3.0. He acknowledges this is a lofty goal, but with several new coaches and a shared recruiting philosophy underway, he’s confident the department and athletes can get it done.

“It’s only going to get better,” Knox said. “High-performing students are high-performing athletes. There aren’t very many exceptions. Academic success shows you can multi-task, you’re disciplined and that you have emotional intelligence, which is very important in athletics.”

Written by: Becky Gropp