UMKC athletics holds a 91 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for its student-athletes, three points above the national average. Paramount in achieving this figure are the tools and support systems that UMKC has in place for fostering the success of its student-athletes.
Deputy Athletic Director Ursula Gurney says the Student Athlete Support Services Office (SASSO) focuses on a holistic approach to ensuring student-athlete success, including services like leadership training and opportunities and community service events in addition to academic support.
“It’s not just about classes or grade-checking, it’s also about developing the whole person,” Gurney said. “We want to develop student-athletes who are learners for life…who graduate with the degree of their choosing, and [are] able to pursue a career that they’re ready for…and be successful after sports.”
Although the athletics department works to ensure a holistic development for their student-athletes, making grades still plays an integral part in a student-athlete’s life at UMKC.
According to Gurney, the SASSO has a team of staff members who work closely with other academic advisors on campus in order to support student-athletes in taking the right classes for their chosen major and ensuring academic success in the classroom.
In addition to a close, working relationship with other academic advisors on campus, the athletics department also offers mentorship and tutoring services to student-athletes.
Anna Lillig, a goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team and student-athlete athletics director, explained the mentorship and tutoring services for student-athletes also act as a way to monitor grades, and catch student-athletes before a slipping grade can become a problem.
According to Lillig, every incoming freshman student-athlete has a required amount of study hall hours per week, but if they’re able to maintain sufficient grades, that hourly requirement drops in their second semester of their freshman year. And if a student-athlete still keeps their grades up, they have the potential to no longer have an hourly study hall requirement.
“I was done completely with study hall hours after freshman year because my grades were good,” Lillig said. “But, say if they started slipping my sophomore year, then I would have to go back to doing study hall hours.”
In fact, Lillig continues to utilize the department’s tutoring services for her biochemistry class in her senior year.
Support staff and services aside, Gurney has said the most advantageous method for ensuring student-athlete success is avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach. In order for student-athletes to succeed, they must be approached as an individual, and have their support services tailored for their individual needs.
“The [student-athletes] that need more help, we don’t brush them aside, or treat them as ‘less-than’,” Gurney said. “We lift them up.”
Gurney explained that not every student-athlete has the same background coming into college. Some are more prepared than others, and not every student-athlete has the same ACT score or high school résumé, but that’s not a problem for the athletics department. By employing an individualistic approach to supporting student-athletes, the athletics department strives to meet each person where they’re at and help them improve from there.
“We had one student, many years ago, who came in with a profile that demonstrated he was going to need help,” Gurney said. “And he left here with a business degree, and he worked hard.”
UMKC athletics’ impressive graduation rate is not just thanks to one person, one department or one initiative, but the collaborative efforts of everyone involved, including the student-athletes. Their hard work, coupled with the support services offered by the SASSO and the relationship the department has with the rest of the campus and its resources, provides an excellent environment for student-athletes to succeed in college beyond their chosen sport. For all athletes, whether or not they turn pro, sports end, eventually. But UMKC is committed to ensuring that all student-athletes have the tools to value education and continue to lead happy and successful lives when that day comes.