By Gary Brown
SSF helps schools combat economic crisis
The Supplemental Support Fund was created in 2007 to support efforts to invest in student-athletes’ academic success at limited-resource schools in Division I and to meet increasing academic standards.
The fund was timely in two ways. Grants from the fund helped limited-resource institutions keep up with the demands of increased benchmarks in the Academic Progress Rate, and they also helped at a time when a national economic crisis affected all colleges and universities.
“Initially, we believed the Supplemental Support Fund would be supported by additional dollars from the schools’ budgets to facilitate academic success, but as it has turned out, that anticipated additional investment did not occur at a number of schools due to the crippling effects the national recession had on educational funding,” said Bob Chichester, NCAA director of student-athlete affairs.
As schools faced the difficult task of weathering the tough economic environment, the Supplemental Support Fund allowed programs to participate in professional development activities, add new staff members, purchase new academic support equipment and improve academic support facilities.
More than $4.3 million has been provided to about three dozen limited-resource schools annually since 2007, including 21 of the 24 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Division I. Awards have ranged from $5,000 to $50,000 per year and have had a direct academic impact on the school’s student-athletes.
In the five years since the program was created, many schools have been able to add academic advisors and counselors, provide laptops to student-athletes to use while they travel to games, and upgrade study hall areas, computer labs and other academic study space.
After the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many of the limited-resource schools in the South faced the added challenge of finding funds to repair damaged campuses. Grants from the Supplemental Support Fund after 2007 allowed these institutions to supplement already strained budgets to restore, renovate and rebuild academic support areas.
While the main focus of the fund is to improve the academic success of student-athletes, the program has allowed staff members to sharpen their professional skills at conferences and seminars, including the NCAA Regional Rules Seminars and the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics convention.
The program has also created a new way for academic support staff members to establish a relationship with the NCAA that may not have been made otherwise.
“HBCUs in particular were significantly affected by the tough economic climate, which ultimately made meeting higher academic standards more difficult,” said Chichester. “The grants provided through the Supplemental Support Fund have helped give these institutions more resources to help their student-athletes become academically successful.”
The NCAA Executive Committee has approved $4.8 million in funding over the next three years for a pilot program that will help Division I schools identified as “limited-resource” institutions develop enhancements and systems to increase their student-athletes’ academic performance.
The funding is in addition to $4 million allocated to the Division I Supplemental Support Fund, which was established in 2007 to assist student-athletes at limited-resource schools (see accompanying story).
The two funds extend the effort to help limited-resource institutions meet standards set within the Division I Academic Performance Program (APR). The primary goal is to help schools develop sustainable plans to ensure all teams meet the 930 APR benchmark that will be in effect by 2016-17 for limited-resource schools.
The Limited-Resource Institutions Grant Program Pilot will be administered by the NCAA national office staff. Schools will be required to identify issues affecting teams’ academic performance, develop systems and strategies to address those issues, and establish both short- and long-term goals for improvement. There also must be a commitment from institutional personnel – including the president – to ensure engagement and accountability.
Additionally, the pilot includes reporting requirements to hold institutions accountable for properly using the funds and to better measure the initiative’s success.
Grants of up to $300,000 will be awarded annually to successful applicants for such uses as summer bridge programs for student-athletes, funding summer school attendance, paying for a fifth year of aid, or funding additional staffing, facilities and equipment, among others.
Applicants not accepted still have the opportunity through the Supplemental Support Fund to receive assistance to implement some of the initiatives that are included in the pilot program. After the three-year pilot, the NCAA will evaluate its success and determine whether to extend the pilot or fully implement the program.
A group composed of NCAA staff and representatives from the Division I Committee on Academic Performance and the Limited-Resource and Historically Black Colleges and Universities Advisory Group will select pilot schools.
Executive Committee members agreed that the Division I Committee on Academic Performance should continue to develop a working definition of what constitutes a limited-resource institution and encouraged the Academic Performance Committee to consider whether the definition should include all Historically Black Colleges. The preliminary formula for determining resource level includes per capita expenditures on athletics, per capita educational expenditures for the student body and average Pell Grant funds among all students.
Schools classified in the Football Bowl Subdivision are not eligible, since their classification indicates that they have made the substantial financial commitment to be a member of the FBS – including higher sport-sponsorship numbers and increased athletics scholarship requirements.
“Combined with the Supplemental Support Fund, the limited-resource pilot program addresses a need associated with these types of institutions,” said the NCAA’s Bernard Franklin, executive vice president for membership and student-athlete affairs. “The programs have been developed based on lengthy discussions and feedback from our limited-resource constituents – including HBCUs – and we anticipate measurable improvement through this pilot over the next three years.”
Accommodations for higher APR standards
The financial enhancements for limited-resource schools accompany a more flexible progression for those schools to meet increased academic benchmarks in the coming years as well.
Most schools will be held to an enhanced APR benchmark over the next three years to avoid postseason bans. Teams will have to meet either a 900 four-year APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to qualify for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 postseasons. For the 2014-15 postseason, teams must earn a 930 four-year APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years. Beyond that, teams must have a four-year average at or above 930.
In April, though, the Division I Board of Directors approved a progression for limited-resource schools that is the same through 2013-14, but for 2014-15, they can qualify with a four-year average of 910 or a 940 average over the most recent two years. In 2015-16, all teams must meet a 920 four-year average, which increases to 930 in 2016-17.
In effect, the limited-resource schools receive an additional year and a more flexible progression in which to reach the 930 standard.
The Division I Committee on Academic Performance and the Limited-Resource and Historically Black Colleges and Universities Advisory Group recommended the changes after reviewing issues that limited-resource schools and HBCUs face regularly. The recommendations are intended to allow those institutions more time to make meaningful changes for teams that need additional help in the classroom, while still holding schools accountable for progressing toward a 930 APR (which predicts about a 50 percent graduation rate).
The changes are in line with the overall goal of the APR program, which is not to punish teams that don’t meet the benchmarks but to improve the academic outcomes for underperforming teams.
The higher APR standards for all teams in Division I are designed to ensure that no team with an APR that predicts to less than 50 percent graduation rate participates in NCAA championships. The benchmarks also will apply to the penalties within the Academic Performance Program, including practice and competition reductions.
Michelle Brutlag Hosick contributed to this article.