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UNC formalizes program to help athletes complete unfinished degrees

Posted July 24

— University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced on Thursday the university's plan to formalize a program that will help athletes who did not finish their degrees to return to the university to do so. 

"Complete Carolina" will be funded by the university's athletic department. Folt announced the measure during Thursday's Board of Trustees meeting. 

"For years, we've encouraged students to come back and complete degrees. It's been a point of great pride that many of our athletes have done that," Folt said. "But we are now ready to make quite formal a program that will provide financial support and advising support for all of our former athletes."

Former athletes can begin applying for the program on Sept. 1, and they must have left the university in good academic standing to be considered. Complete Carolina will officially begin in the 2015-16 academic year. 

Those accepted will be offered financial support proportional to a student's athletics aid during initial enrollment, including tuition, fees, room, board and books. Those who left on full scholarship would get a full tuition benefit. Bubba Cunningham Cunningham: We want our students to complete degrees

"We're also expanding beyond our current advising to offer career support and counseling before, during and after they complete their degree," Folt said. "This, really, will extend for life. And it's our hope that all students will be able to return and be able to complete their degree."

She acknowledged that there are many unanswered questions about the breadth, cost and execution of such a program. 

"When you start building something you’re not sure about, you’re committed to making it work. So as we need, we will add," she said.

Steve Kirschner, UNC's senior associate athletic director for communications, said the university currently enrolls 465 students who participate athletics, with 300 of them on scholarship; 236 are full scholarships.

Bubba Cunningham, UNC's director of athletics, said the program creates a pathway for student-athletes who left before graduating

"Part of the national discussion is, 'What do we provide for students?' It’s an education," he said. "We want to fulfill that obligation for all students."

The NCAA has allowed schools to offer degree-completion programs to student-athletes who have run out of athletic eligibility since August 2012.

North Carolina State, Duke universities and others have similar programs in place.

Art Chase, of the Blue Devils athletics department, noted that a former baseball player who left Durham to play professionally is currently enrolled and expected to graduate in the fall.

"While each circumstance is administered individually, Duke has provided financial support, and will continue to do so moving forward, to those who return to complete their degree requirements after their eligibility has expired," Chase said.

Cunningham noted that not all former students would want to return to Chapel Hill.

"Some of our students will have difficulty finishing their degree at North Carolina. We need to look at an educational trust fund where they can finish their education somewhere else," he said. Rashad McCants at the UNC alumni game McCants: No free education

UNC leaders did not say if the move was motivated by recent comments by Rashad McCants, a Tar Heel basketball player on the 2005 national championship team, who told ESPN, "If I didn't receive a free education, ... there should be something that should come out of this."

While enrolled in Chapel Hill, McCants compared being a student-athlete to prison or a 9-to-5 job. "To get up, go to school, get in here, lift weights and play basketball. That's my 9 to 5," McCants told WRAL in 2004. 

In recent months, McCants has again been in the news, claiming he did not get the education he was promised at UNC. He told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that he rarely went to class, took bogus classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible and had tutors write his term papers. 

The university responded by inviting McCants to discuss his allegations with  former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein, who is leading the latest in a series of investigations into academic improprieties at UNC.

In her comments Thursday, Folt also mentioned that both Wainstein and the NCAA are making progress in their probes. 

"We know that (Kenneth Wainstein's investigation) will be coming to a close sometime soon. We are working to prepare for it, and I think it's exactly what we hoped and want it to be," Folt said. "The NCAA also announced that it was reopening its investigation into these issues. That wasn't a surprise...that, too, is proceeding in the way we would like and expect."

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  • uBnice Jul 24, 8:47 a.m.

    If the athletes are going to be given time after playing to obtain degrees, then why not reduce their course load while they are playing.

    Make it so that those who want/need to can have 2-3 classes as full-time during their season, particularly football and basketball.

    An interesting situation at UNC-CH is that the women's soccer team has one of the worse graduation rates. It is not because of bad grades. It is because they are so successful many go pro without graduating.

    Imagine that, college athletes (primarily white women) who are interested in using college for a pro career!

  • Riddickfield Jul 24, 8:57 a.m.

    The best part is they don't have to attend class to complete their degrees!

  • thewayitis Jul 24, 9:03 a.m.

    Well, aren't they special?

  • Whiskey4one Jul 24, 9:05 a.m.

    I seriously doubt this is about UNC offering to allow athletes with incomplete coursework to come back out of the goodness of their hearts.

    This is about creating an obtusely described platform to make athletes and others whole on their sham AFAM classes as MANDATED by SACS (the university's academic accreditation body). The carolina way - to seem rather than to be.

  • Toddler10-21 Jul 24, 9:06 a.m.

    If you want your degree you will get it. It is tough being a student athlete, just don't use that as a excuse. Buckle down, focus and remember you have a FREE education. Always admired Vince Carter for not playing that playoff game because he wanted to graduate with his class. Maybe Rashard will be happy now? Talk to one of his teammates a few days ago and asked him abt Rashard. It wasn't pretty, but funny what he said.LOL.

  • fjsmss2099 Jul 24, 9:09 a.m.

    This program will be a huge success. Let's see when they did not have to attend classes, given grades and have someone write their papers they could not graduate. Now these former athletes will be knocking the door down to try to get a degree when hopefully they have to do their own work. PRICELESS!!!

  • sinenomine Jul 24, 9:16 a.m.

    Their tuition will be paid for them.

    Is any consideration to be given to their present income, if any?

    Did these athletes leave school voluntarily? If so, why? Because they were required to attend a class or produce an original piece of writing?

    This program on its face appears to be less a question of keeping faith with former students than of redeeming Carolina's soiled name in the educational community.

  • 68_dodge_polara Jul 24, 9:16 a.m.

    No doubt they regret not getting their degree when things were being made easy for them.

  • raleighboy524 Jul 24, 9:20 a.m.

    Highly transparent effort by UNC to change the conversation about its shameful abuse of academics in favor of athletics.

  • sfallin3 Jul 24, 9:22 a.m.

    Why don't they do this for non-athlete former students that had to quite for financial reasons (you know they didn't have a free ride doing sports and didn't leave to peruse the MBA). Are they offered any incentives to come finish their degree?

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