By David Pickle
In any given year, about 13 percent of the incoming student-athletes at Division II institutions are two-year college transfers.
Conventional wisdom might dictate that most of them found their way to community colleges because they couldn’t make the grade academically, but that’s far from true. Of that 13 percent, only 5.5 percent were nonqualifiers. Another 7 percent were partial qualifiers, meaning that about 87.5 percent were full qualifiers when they graduated from high school.
Certainly, that’s a lower percentage than for non-two-year college transfers, about 95 percent of whom were full qualifiers. But the realm of two-year college transfers is not an academic disaster area.
At the same time, the cohort does contain a number of student-athletes with major academic deficiencies.
All APC Cohorts (2006-10), Fall Entrants Only; * 0/2 = ineligible and not retained
All of that was the basis of the challenge that faced the Division II Academic Requirements Task Force as it sought to identify better, data-driven standards. How could the system identify and support at-risk two-year college transfers without disadvantaging those who are capable of doing the work?
Ultimately, the task force concluded that the correct answer for two-year college transfers was “it depends.” It depends on the student-athlete’s academic performance in high school, it depends on how long the student-athlete was enrolled at the two-year college and it depends on the nature of academic work done at the two-year college.
One current rule likely will remain on the Division II books. The task force is recommending that Division II continue the policy of permitting anybody who has earned an associate of arts degree at an accredited two-year college (assuming at least two semesters or three quarters of attendance) to be immediately eligible. In most cases, those degrees have requirements that would prepare students for a four-year institution. In addition, many Division II institutions have articulation agreements that require them to accept graduates of two-year colleges within their states.
So, that part appears easy.
The remaining question is more challenging: how to deal with cases where one or more academic warning flags have been raised. After all, if Division II approves strengthened progress-toward-degree standards, two-year college transfers will find themselves with heightened expectations upon arrival at their four-year destination. They would need to maintain a 2.0 GPA, complete at least nine hours per term and 27 hours per year, and (in short order) have all credits taken applying toward a degree. It will be bad for them and bad for their new school if they can’t keep up.
“We owe it to our student-athletes that we not put you at risk by admitting you and then setting you up for failure,” said Nebraska-Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen, a member of the Academic Requirements Task Force. “I don’t think that’s in anybody’s best interests – the athlete’s or the institution’s.”
Here is the task force’s recommendation:
*For a student-athlete who meets all the two-year transfer requirements EXCEPT the 2.20 GPA but has a minimum 2.00 GPA, the student-athlete is eligible for practice and financial aid.
A couple of notable addendums go with the recommendation. First, although a 2.2 GPA from the two-year institution would be required to be immediately eligible, a two-year college transfer could practice and receive financial aid (but not compete) with a 2.0, if all other requirements were met. Also, an exception would be made to the physical education activity limits if the transfer student-athlete was enrolling in a physical education degree program at the four-year institution.
Although the two-year college transfer recommendation has more variables than the recommended standards for freshman academic eligibility, the standards actually are based on the same principles as initial eligibility:
Brenda Cates, faculty athletics representative at Mount Olive and a member of the task force, noted the importance of the GPA standard, not only for identifying student-athletes who will be immediately eligible but also for those who are at-risk but could graduate with proper support.
“If they can meet all other requirements but they come in with between a 2.0 and a 2.2, they can still practice and receive financial aid,” she said. “We don’t want to deny them the access, but at the same time, we realize if they’re coming in at that GPA level, they are at an academic risk. We want to provide the support and allow them access to the team, but the competition would be withheld.”
The current rule for two-year college transfers already has English and math components, but the requirement for science for many two-year college transfers would be new.
“The GPA is by far the strongest predictor of success for two-year college transfers,” said NCAA Associate Director of Research Gregg Summers, who has led research for the task force. “We checked a number of other factors in addition to GPA and found that the number of science credits transferred also had a significant positive relationship to first-year GPA at the four-year institution.”
With that in mind, the recommendation calls for two-year college transfers who have not earned an AA degree to have three semester or four quarter hours of transferrable natural or physical science.
At the same time, data also showed a significant negative relationship between the number of physical education credits transferred and first-year GPA. In other words, the more activity credits student-athletes transferred, the lower their GPA at the four-year school tended to be. While a reasonable person might intuit that correlation, the statistical evidence led the task force to limit to two the number of transferrable activity credits for most two-year college transfers without an AA.
Of the three areas studied by the task force – initial eligibility and progress-toward-degree being the others – the transfer recommendations were the first for which consensus was reached. However, the discussion is not yet closed. As with the other areas, the task force will collect membership feedback throughout the spring, mostly through conference meetings and at Regional Rules Seminars. In addition, there will be more dialogue with representatives from the two-year college community. All of that feedback will be considered at the next meeting of the Academic Task Force in June. Any legislation will be considered at the January 2014 Convention.
Although the contemplated changes are significant and likely to generate abundant discussion before the January 2014 Convention, Cates said the solidarity of the task force was striking.
“Every single concept we voted on was a consensus vote,” she said. “We had chancellors, presidents, athletics directors, senior woman administrators, compliance coordinators, FARs, commissioners and student-athletes. We had large universities represented, small privates represented, Historically Black Colleges and Universities represented. We could not have been a more diverse group, and we think the data-driven concepts that we’ve got here are the best we could put forth at this time.”