ANAHEIM, CALIF. — If your institution serves an athletic population, you’re probably familiar with the unique enrollment and certifying challenges that accompany serving student-athletes. Even if your office is not directly involved in athletic certification on campus, registrars often play a crucial role in the success of a student-athlete, from ensuring eligibility, both before and after graduation, to monitoring transcripts during and before seasons to ensure that a student-athlete is certified to play. Student-athletes often require more attention from your office than other students. In a session at the recent Pacific Association of Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference, Biljana Jovanovska, assistant registrar for athletic compliance and enrollment at the University of Idaho, laid out best practices for successfully serving student-athletes as they enroll at your institution and through certification for eligibility.

Recruitment best practices

“All the success and failure [of a student-athlete on campus] starts with recruitment,” Jovanovska said, adding that the groundwork for the success of a collegiate student-athlete actually begins with the foundation laid in high school. Jovanovska advised reaching out to high school counselors and advising them of the rules for contact with recruiting officials from universities. You can also outfit them with tools to advise student-athletes of the academic expectations facing them at universities and for admission. Jovanovska noted that there can occasionally be a gap between a campus coach’s desire to bring a terrific student-athlete to campus and the student’s ability to meet admission requirements. “Coaches can be tough,” Jovanovska said, adding that there are circumstances where a coach is so excited about a potential recruit that he could potentially make promises that are difficult for the university to keep.

Jovanovska shared best practices for dealing smoothly with recruits and coaching staff on campus:

  • Monitor eligibility through use of unofficial evaluations, transcripts and projection of credentials. Jovanovska pointed out that the use of unofficial transcripts, which can lead to an unofficial admissions evaluation for coaches and students, has helped the admissions staff create a projection of whether the student might be a good fit for the university. Finding those students who might not pass admissions requirements early can help adjust the expectations of both the coach and the student, or the applicant may be able to remedy deficiencies.
  • Oversee paperwork. Part of the complication for certifying student-athletes on campus is that not only do admissions requirements have to be met, but also student-athlete medical paperwork must be monitored for National Collegiate Athletic Association certification. “Students can’t even practice without medical paperwork,” Jovanovska said.
  • Appoint single contact point. Designate a single point of contact for the student-athlete on campus, and make sure that all messaging to the student comes directly from this point of contact. Creating one point of contact helps to resolve different messages students might be getting from multiple points, like coaches, other admissions officers, and their own high school advisors. Jovanovska advised sending compliance officers files for all potential recruits and not just those recruits that are the most desired by athletics coaches or most likely to attend your institution. That way, compliance officers are not blindsided by any last-minute recruits.
  • Set good boundaries. In tandem with the rule of setting a single point of contact, registrars should not reach out to students personally — unless they are the designated NCAA compliance officer — even though it might seem to be easier in the moment. Setting up a relationship where the student’s point of reference and contact is the registrar will prove difficult to navigate in the long term. Having a compliance officer, coach and registrar as all potential touch points for the student-athlete becomes confusing and creates confusion among roles. Registrars should also set boundaries with coaches. Jovanovska encouraged registrars to speak to coaches only through compliance contact points, particularly in the case of final decisions for academic admittance eligibility.

Clarity of communicating expectations key for student success

One pain point for certifying a potential student-athlete as a student-athlete on your campus is that two processes must take place simultaneously: certifying the checklist of items required by the NCAA for a student to be eligible and clearing the items for the admission process at your institution. This process is extremely redundant and often involves students submitting the same information twice, Jovanovska said. “Once they [prospective student-athletes] submit everything to the NCAA, they think they’re done,” Jovanovska said. Part of the certifying process involves raising student awareness that to be admitted to the institution and be eligible to play, prospective student-athletes need to complete both checklists. Jovanovska offered some guidelines for ways this can be done efficiently by registrars and certifying officials:

  • Explain clear due dates for both processes.
  • Communicate to students the different checklists with a packet of information, condensed to one page for each process and with clear visual checkpoints.
  • Reach out to high school advisors. If possible, host sessions for prospective student-athletes, counselors and parents to educate them on the most recent rules and requirements set by the NCAA and your institution.
  • Proactively track student-athletes to ensure they are meeting requirements.

Although this certification process is typically smooth for true freshmen (those students without any restrictions or previous college credit units), registrars need to be aware of the complications that can arise when students transfer credits from another institution, Jovanovska said. Such complications include determining what level of eligibility these students qualify for through the NCAA.

Differentiate between institutional, conference and NCAA regulations

Another complication to certifying and admitting student-athletes to your institution is that student-athletes must clear three levels of eligibility and regulations: NCAA regulations, conference-specific requirements and your institutional expectations. Making sure that your office staff and your prospective student-athletes are aware of the differences and specificities in all three is key to ensuring student-athlete success on your campus. NCAA regulations are typically the bare minimum that students must meet; your institution can have stricter requirements for student-athletes, Jovanovska said. “You can’t have special treatment for your student-athletes, but you can expect a higher standard from them,” Jovanovska said, adding that these expectations can range from academic standing to community presence.

Protect student privacy while collaborating across departments

Another best practice for ensuring student-athlete success is to work to set up strong relationships between offices within your institution, Jovanovska said. For example, the registrar’s office, admissions office and compliance officers should work together. For the admissions office, this means that admissions staff should know early on which students are athletes so that their applications can be processed faster and so that they can be certified in time for early practices. One common pitfall with interdepartmental collaboration is ensuring that student records remain secure and protected, Jovanovska said. That can mean using only secured shared drives on university systems instead of cloud-based software like Google Docs, no saving on desktops, and frequent password changes.

Guiding student-athletes to a successful completion

Although student advisors are not part of the certifying process, they play an integral part in keeping students eligible, Jovanovska said. Work with student advisors to help them better understand the components of academic eligibility for student-athletes. “You need to know how to calculate for eligibility to advise for eligibility,” Jovanovska said, adding that advisors need the tools to speak the same language to benefit student-athletes. Since student-athletes are not required to declare a final choice of major until their fifth semester, advisors are able to help them explore their strengths. Jovanovska also recommended having advisors look at the full profiles of transfer students to see what requirements students might have already met since repeating a course that’s already been passed, or a requirement that’s already been fulfilled, can negatively affect a student-athlete’s eligibility. Jovanovska also advised holding educational sessions with major departments on campus since faculty and staff members may not be aware of NCAA regulations for academic eligibility.