UNC program to help former athletes who want to return for degrees
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced Thursday a new formal initiative by the university to provide advising and financial support for former student-athletes who want to complete their degrees.
For student-athletes who left the school in good academic standing, the new “Complete Carolina” program will mean access to financial support, including for tuition, fees, room, board and books, in-line with their scholarships.
In addition, the program will also offer enhanced advising before, during and after the students’ return, according to a news release. The school is expecting to begin accepting applications Sept. 1.
Speaking at meeting of the UNC Board of Trustees at The Carolina Inn on Thursday, Folt said the program formalizes an approach the school has already been taking to allow student-athletes to return.
“For years, we’ve encouraged students to come back and complete degrees, and, in fact, it’s been a point of pride that many of our athletes have done that,” she said. “But we are now ready to make quite formal a program that will provide financial support and additional advising support for all of our formal athletes.”
Steve Kirschner, a spokesman for UNC athletics, said some former scholarship student-athletes have returned and paid their own way, while others have been able to access financial support as athletic budgets have allowed. What the school is now doing is making broadening that commitment to scholarship athletes.
“It’s a commitment to doing it across the board, and a commitment to educate students while they’re here that this is something they can do if for some reason, they have to leave before they get their degrees,” he said.
The school did not have an estimate of how much the new program will cost or an exact number for how many former-student-athletes the program will apply to, Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s athletics director, told reporters Thursday. In the past decade, he said, maybe 30 to 40 students have returned to complete their degrees.
According to the latest NCAA data, North Carolina’s Graduation Success Rate was 86 percent. That covers incoming freshmen classes between 2003 and 2006, and reflects the percentage of those players who graduated within six years of matriculation. It doesn’t count athletes who left school in good academic standing prior to graduation, however.
Cunningham said school officials plan to actively recruit former student-athletes to return. Scholarships will be adjusted to current costs, he confirmed to reports. He said they will be paid for by the Rams Club with assistance from the Athletic Department.
Kirschner said he believes the program is in response to a “national conversation” that’s going on about student-athlete welfare issues.
UNC football coach Larry Fedora praised the new program.
"You're fulfilling your promise to these guys and making sure they get a degree,” he said. “I think that's very important and something that ought to be done all over the country and I'm proud that we're one of the first to do it."
The announcement comes as the school continues to grapple with an academic scandal involving student-athletes.
This summer, the NCAA reopened its investigation into academic irregularities involving student-athletes. It had previously concluded its initial investigation in 2012 into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits involving the Tar Heels football program and handed down penalties that included a one-year, postseason ban, according to previous reports in The Herald-Sun.
However, the academic part of the original probe had focused on impermissible help to players from former tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson.
But an internal investigation by the school found evidence of courses in which professors engaged in limited or no instructional contact, grade rosters with forged signatures, and unauthorized grade changes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department, which is now the Department of African, African-American and Diaspora Studies. Another review led by former Gov. Jim Martin found problems in the department dating back to 1997.
The former chair of the department, Julius Nyang'oro, and former department assistant Debbie Crowder are cooperating with authorities, according to the reports.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall dismissed a felony charge against Nyang'oro, saying he cooperated with an SBI criminal investigation that led to the charge, and agreed to continue cooperating with the district attorney's office.
He also agreed to cooperate with the independent, non-criminal, investigation being conducted by Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor, into athletic and academic issues at the school. Folt said Thursday that will be coming to a close “sometime soon.”