Challenges and Opportunities Supporting Student-Athletes

Challenges and Opportunities Supporting Student-Athletes

Interview with Nate Bell, Vanderbilt Senior Academic Counselor


Vanderbilt University
Senior Academic Counselor
[email protected]
Twitter: @DrNateBell

Nate Bell is a former NCAA Division III basketball student-athlete at Wabash College (IN) and currently is a senior academic counselor in the Vanderbilt University department of athletics. He recently completed his doctoral degree from Vanderbilt in Higher Education Leadership.

Nate brings a broad perspective on the student-athlete experience. He has worked with student-athletes at three NCAA Division I institutions (Ball State, Illinois, Vanderbilt) and has conducted research about the student-athlete experience.

In this interview Nate share his insights into the demands today’s student-athletes face and ways that athletics administrators can better serve them to improve the overall educational experience.

Here is an overview of the discussion topics covered in the interview.

Challenges for Today’s Division I Student-Athlete

Time Demands

  • Between athletics commitments and academic requirements, little time is left for anything else.
  • Most people on campus do not realize the extraordinary commitment student-athletes make and the common “college experience” opportunities that are sacrificed.
  • Travel adds considerably to time demands and missed classes or exams add stress and anxiety to student-athletes’ lives.

Negative Stereotypes

  • Faculty and other students often believe student-athletes gained special admission privileges and are not of the same academic caliber as non-athletes. This is true especially at highly selective institutions.
  • These perceptions, biases and prejudices, significantly impact a student-athlete’s overall experience on campus.


  • Most student-athletes are capable and serious students, but balancing athletic / academic commitments can often blur their perception of themselves.
  • Do they view themselves as “student-athletes” or “athlete-students?”
  • Football, men’s basketball, baseball tend to view themselves more as athletes.
  • Coaches and administrators need to help student-athletes realize that athletics is just a part of their overall development and educational experience.

Ways athletics departments can do a better job with the student-athlete experience

Long Term Develop Plan

  • Programs need to broaden their perspective on student-athletes’ experiences. Graduation rates have been the commonly used metric, but programs need to think beyond graduation.
  • How are student-athletes prepared for life after graduation? Programs should ensure student-athletes leave their institutions with the skills and opportunities to succeed.
  • The student-athlete experience should focus on producing good alumni and responsible members of society.
  • Everyone must be involved in this process. It can’t just be the academic support staff, it’s the administration, coaches and other campus departments.

Teach Student-Athletes About Process, Not Just Outcomes

  • Academically student-athletes have goals, but few understand what it will take to achieve those goals.
  • Teaching student-athletes how to be successful is necessary. They all want to be successful but need to learn what to do when the encounter challenges or obstacles.

Continually Evaluate the Student-Athlete Experience

  • Regularly collect data and assess the experience to help make decisions.
  • NCAA GOALS and SCORE studies provide some insights, but each campus needs to learn about their particular issues, challenges and opportunities for student-athletes.
  • Student-athletes are the best source of information about their own experiences so campuses need to ask them about their challenges,

Final Food for Thought

Student-athletes are unique, with distinct challenges and significantly impact their overall educational experience. We need to make sure we fully understand their experiences to better support student-athletes.

Long term development planning for student-athletes is critical. Programs need to think beyond college. We are preparing them for life after graduation, so the planning should be for forty years, not four years.

Collect and use data to help make better decisions in support of the student-athlete experience.

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Mark Majeski founded Majeski Athletic Consulting in 2011 after spending more than two decades working in small college athletics.


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