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Coppin State athletics director steers athletes toward graduation

By Marta Lawrence

When Derrick Ramsey became athletics director at Coppin State five years ago, the school’s Graduate Success Rate was 58 percent. Today, that number has grown to 75 percent, and Coppin State student-athletes average a 3.0 GPA.

This year alone, the rate climbed six percentage points—the biggest jump of Ramsey’s tenure.

“The thing I was up against at Coppin was I had to change the whole culture of the athletics department,” Ramsey said. “Prior to me coming there, the athletics department was a culture of eligibility, not graduation.”

Ramsey accomplished this shift through a holistic focus on academics that combines summer classes and classes over winter break with a fifth-year degree completion program and an innovative program that integrates campus faculty with the athletics department. In 2012 Coppin State was awarded an NCAA Accelerating Academic Success grant worth $900,000 over three years to assist with those initiatives.

The AASP grants are aimed at developing methods to help schools meet the requirements of the NCAA Division I Academic Performance Program. One of those standards calls for increasing the graduation rates and academic success of student-athletes at Division I institutions outside the Football Bowl Subdivision. Schools eligible to apply for the program are in the bottom 10 percent of resources as determined by per capita institutional expenditures, athletics department funding and Pell Grant aid.

“Now with this grant we’re able to compete with anyone in the country,” Ramsey said. “We’ve never had a semester over the last five years when we’ve been below a 3.0 GPA average.  Now with these monies we’re going into a higher gear.”

That higher gear means dedicating even more resources toward an integration program that pays for faculty to travel with teams. The grant allows Ramsey to pay for travel expenses as well as enrichment programs that help faculty understand the value of intercollegiate athletics.

“As a faculty member you don’t understand sometimes the difficulty and the rigors of being a student-athlete, particularly at an institution that’s not very well-funded,” Ramsey said. “I wanted them to understand what these young people are going through in their experience.”

The grant has also allowed Coppin increase opportunities for student-athletes participating in summer and winter break classes. Thirteen student-athletes participated in  winter 2012, and 24 participated in summer school—the highest numbers to date.

“My push is not six years; I want students to graduate in four years,” he said. “That’s been our focus.”

As a historically black university, Coppin State has a tradition of welcoming students that may have otherwise not had an opportunity to achieve a college education. This mission is a personal passion for Ramsey.

“This fire burns deep for me,” Ramsey said. “I understand what the world has to offer, and if we’re not preparing our young people then I have failed, and I’m derelict in my duties.”