A comprehensive tutoring system at Kansas University helps intercollegiate athletes improve academic performance.
Lisa Tate had proven that her gift for shooting, passing and blocking a basketball warranted a scholarship to play for the Kansas University Jayhawks.
The catch: She wasn't up to speed in the classroom at Southwest High School in Kansas City, Mo. She didn't meet the NCAA's minimum academic standards.
As a "Proposition 48" student, Tate was required to sit out her first year at KU and forfeit a year of playing eligibility. That meant no games or practice, but plenty of time to work with tutors on the athletic department's Student Support Services staff.
"I benefited a lot from tutoring. You don't make the grades, you don't play," said Tate, a senior who expects to graduate in May with a degree in recreation management.
Paul Buskirk, who oversees the athletic department's academic support and counseling services, said Tate is one of KU's academic success stories.
She's among 180 of KU's intercollegiate athletes who work with 60 tutors at the Athletic Achievement Center. About 40 percent of KU's athletes receive tutoring through the center.
Buskirk said the athletic department spends $105,000 a year for tutoring.
"Tutoring is what makes our program as good as any in the country," said Bob Frederick, KU's athletic director.
Mike Hock, research assistant in KU's Center for Research on Learning, coordinates KU's unusual tutoring program for athletes.
He said traditional programs were limited to "content" tutoring, which help students overcome immediate barriers in class but tend to make students dependent on tutors.
KU, however, also offers what is known as "strategic" tutoring. The objective is to teach students how to be independent learners capable of studying on their own.
"If they have a theme to write, the goal of the session is not just to get the theme written. The goal is to teach them the process that good theme writers go through so they will be better prepared to write a theme next time," Hock said.
He said the expanded approach to tutoring served as a model for other universities.
"This works. We can tailor things to meet their needs," said Janie Kobett, a KU graduate who tutors athletes 35 hours a week.
Hock said his biggest frustration was athletes who don't take education seriously. All athletes willing to work hard can earn a meaningful degree, he said.
"I don't care how underprepared a student is, if that person ... is motivated we know enough about the teaching process to make them successful," he said.