Diane Barrett helps Imelda Peņa prepare for an exam.
The Bickerstaff Center for Student-Athlete Academic Services is the university’s primary academic advising unit for its National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I student-athletes. The center assists and monitors the academic progress of student-athletes toward a baccalaureate degree; at the same time, the center works to ensure the students’ continued athletic eligibility for NCAA team participation. The BAC is an academic support unit within the Academic Affairs Division and reports to the Vice Provost.
Currently, CSULB fields 18 teams: baseball; mens and womens basketball; men’s and women’s golf; softball; women’s soccer; women’s tennis; men’s and women’s track; men’s and women’s cross-country; men’s and women’s indoor track; men’s and women’s volleyball; and men’s and women’s water polo. To bring CSULB into compliance with Title IX’s gender equity requirements, the women’s water polo team began competing in spring 1998 and the women’s soccer team began in fall 1998. The total number of NCAA Division I student-athletes on team rosters currently approximates 350.
Ludivina Valdez and Jason Bruton study in the quiet and spacious Bickerstaff Center.
While serving currently enrolled student-athletes, the BAC staff also works with former student-athletes who, because of financial issues or injuries, can no longer compete and must leave their teams. Additionally, many former student-athletes who play in professional sports also return to CSULB to finish their degrees. It is not unusual for the center to work with professional baseball, basketball and volleyball players of national stature each year. Besides the 350 currently competing athletes, the BAC may academically assist more than 400 additional students each year.
The first athletic teams representing the university began competition in 1950. At that time, no formal institutional academic support or guidance for student-athletes existed. This practice continued until the early 1980s, when a Student-Athlete Advising Center was established under University Academic Programs/Academic Affairs with one full-time professional staff person and student assistants. In the early 1990s, as the NCAA mandated more stringent requirements to maintain athletic eligibility and the complexity of academic requirements for meeting degree completion increased, the need for expansion of academic services for the student-athlete population grew in importance.
Brent Gray is able to focus on his work while tucked away in one of the private computer cubicles in the Bickerstaff Center for Student-Athlete Academic Services.
In fall 1995, in an attempt to increase retention and graduation rates of NCAA student-athletes at CSULB, a change of direction was initiated with the appointment of a new director of Student-Athlete Services. Since then, numerous changes have been implemented in the philosophy, management and organization of student-athlete support. In a holistic approach, professional BAC academic counselors use a combination of prescriptive and developmental advising techniques, as well as student-athlete academic welfare programs, to provide the student-athlete population with comprehensive academic assistance services.
As a result of these efforts, graduation rates have increased from 23 percent in 1995 to an all-time high, six-year graduation rate of 56 percent for the 2007 graduating class. Student-athletes who complete their NCAA eligibility at CSULB have a graduation rate of more than 85 percent.
Recent and exciting changes in student-athlete academic services include the move to the new Bickerstaff Academic Center, which has a full study hall and computer access. The addition of a new student-athlete academic specialist position, filled by Dr. Chris Jolly in December, brings renewed energy, expertise and structure to the center’s specialized academic support and tutorials.