Every year more than 450,000 student-athletes compete while pursuing an education. This month thousands of these student-athletes will receive their diplomas. It’s a moment to celebrate.
Fewer than two percent of student-athletes go on to play professionally, so for most, graduation marks the end of their athletic careers. They will use the lessons learned along the way to pursue careers in medicine, communications, education, business, athletics administration and many more fields.
In the past decade, 13,000 former student-athletes who left without graduating have returned to campus to earn degrees. NCAA rules allow for schools to fund scholarships for these returning student-athletes, and we know that many of them come back. Also, the NCAA established a degree-completion award program to help student-athletes graduate. The award provides former student-athletes with an amount equivalent to tuition and fees and a book allowance.
This month we celebrate all the student-athlete graduates. By competing in college sports, these student-athletes have learned important skills, like leadership, time management and teamwork that will prepare them for life after graduation. These student-athletes succeeded on the field and in the classroom. Now it’s time to conquer the next chapter in their lives.
Student-Athlete Graduate Profiles
Courtney Boyd didn’t want to follow her peers into the life of drugs and despair that consumed her hometown. To move on, she would need a new family, a new home, a new name – and the belief that an education could change her life. Learn about her journey from a struggling, rural town in Illinois to her college graduation at Wright State.
By the time Penn State wrestler David Taylor won his second national title, he had already completed his undergraduate degree. The four-time first team National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic honoree is now pursuing his master’s degree in higher education administration.
Throughout his college career, Alex Coccia was a champion of LGBTQ inclusion at Notre Dame, paving the way for the Catholic school’s first official gay-straight alliance. He also was a varsity fencer, a student body president, a researcher in Rwanda, a fencing instructor in Uganda – and the list goes on. Now, he’s celebrating being a Notre Dame graduate.
Zac Houck, an outfielder for Jacksonville University, played three years for the Dolphins before hanging up his glove. Those three years were long enough for Houck to collect three degrees in sociology, psychology and social science. Houck plans to use his degrees to pursue a career in concussion research.
Lehigh University Baseball Captains
Lehigh’s three captains developed admirable virtues and skills through their student-athlete experiences. All three will graduate in May with degrees in mechanical engineering. By combining what they've learned in the classroom with what they've learned on the field, Abeln, Brong and Burke feel ready to take on the real world.
Aaron and Tonya Williams
Tonya Williams put off college to raise her sons. This year she will graduate with one of them, Aaron Williams, a forward for the Chicago State basketball team. The two are classmates now, but always mom and son.
Tim Cindric was a basketball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. A mechanical engineering major, he earned all-conference honors and led the Engineers to a Division III Men’s Basketball Championship appearance in 1989. Today, applying lessons he learned on the court, he is president of Team Penske and fulfilling his dream of being an IndyCar team executive.
Brooke Foster, a senior at the University of North Texas, is a talented college softball shortstop. She is on track, after completion of an internship this summer, to be the first member of her family to graduate from college. She has played softball and gone to school while taking care of her son, who has been her motivation all along.
Bellarmine University basketball program
Bellarmine basketball coach Scott Davenport is in his ninth season of coaching, with a 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship on his resume. The success on the court is great, but Coach Davenport is especially proud of one thing: all but one of Bellarmine’s players under Davenport’s tenure have earned degrees. Davenport believes his job is to prepare student-athletes for the next 40 to 50 years.
Former Georgia Tech football players
Three former Georgia Tech football players who work in or are playing in the NFL will join 69 other current or former Yellow Jacket student-athletes, managers and trainers in graduating this spring. The scholarship opportunities and access to academic support systems at Georgia Tech do not end when college eligibility expires, and the school is committed to helping student-athletes who want to finish degree requirements.
Michigan State University student-athletes
Eighty-seven Michigan State student-athletes, including 13 members of the football team and five members of the men's basketball team, earned their degrees this spring from eight different colleges of study. Michigan State's Mark Hollis says it’s “pretty cool to see those smiles” when the graduating student-athletes walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
Cory Hahn, a 22-year-old former Arizona State University baseball player who was paralyzed by an on-field incident in 2011, is busier than ever these days. Still on scholarship with Arizona State, he is graduating with a degree from the W.P. Carey School of Business, juggling roles with the Sun Devil baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks and, most recently, the Wings for Life World Run. Considering the journey he has taken to get to this point, his accomplishments are simply amazing.
The Syracuse University athletics department, in conjunction with the school’s academic affairs office, has a program in place for former student-athletes to help them earn their diplomas. John Wallace, who left Syracuse in 1996 during his senior year and was a first-round draft pick by the New York Knicks, is one of the former student-athletes who has taken advantage of the program to complete a sociology degree. Even with an NBA career that spanned eight seasons, he always knew he would return to Syracuse. For him, it was a priority.
University of Utah football program
When football players walk on campus at Utah, they know they are there to play. More importantly, they are there to earn their degrees. The players are taught that graduating helps secure a future, so academic expectations placed on them are high. The focus on the classroom is clearly paying off — 26 players earned their degrees this spring.
Mika Brzezinski and Erin Burnett
Former Williams College student-athletes Mika Brzezinski and Erin Burnett are now hosts of popular cable news shows. Both are remembered on campus for being hard-working and competitive. And both were conference champions. They made the most of their student-athlete experiences, earned their degrees and now both have sizeable audiences watching them daily.
This spring has been a season full of milestones for Khalil Mack. The former University at Buffalo, the State University of New York football player earned his degree in psychology and was recently called as the fifth draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. While Mack could have entered the draft last year, it was important for him to earn his degree, setting him up for success long after his playing days.
Zack Martin is more than prepared, both on and off the field. A former football player at the University of Notre Dame, Martin earned his degree in management entrepreneurship from the Mendoza School of Business a year ago. After graduation he spent four and a half months training at the IMG Academy in preparation for the NFL Draft. The work paid off as he was selected 16th overall by the Dallas Cowboys.
Five years removed from a University of Kentucky playing career that culminated with his second-round NBA Draft selection, Jodie Meeks returned to Lexington to finish his degree in business marketing. For Meeks, obtaining his degree was an important step in ensuring he has something to do when his NBA career is over. How does this accomplishment feel to Meeks? “It’s gratifying,” he replied.
Shabazz Napier helped lead the University of Connecticut to the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The guard has had a playing career that will likely land him in the first round of the NBA Draft. While the future looks bright for Napier on the court, education has also been a priority for him. He understands that a degree will set him up for success when his playing days are over. This summer he will achieve both of his dreams, earning a degree in sociology and becoming a professional basketball player.