Several Temple team GPAs improved during the COVID-19 pandemic

The university’s credit/no-credit policy was a big part of the improvement.

Story by Courtney Murphy

Across multiple Temple Division Ⅰ teams, GPAs went up between the last in-person semester, Fall 2019, and the fully remote Fall 2020 semester.

Fencing, Women’s Rowing and Women’s Lacrosse, which just fell to No. 4 Boston College Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, outperformed their program’s high GPA in the fall semester. 

However, academic advisors said most athletes are “zoomed out” and dislike or don’t learn well from online classes. 

So how did the GPAs grow? 

Temple’s new no credit/credit policy is a big part of it.

This policy was introduced to students in the Spring 2020 semester when the university first went to remote learning. Students have the option to have one course per semester graded as credit or no credit. That, in turn, has the potential to boost a student’s grade point average significantly.

Senior Director of the Resnick Academic Support Center Justin Miller recognizes that the policy is one of the primary reasons for the increase. 

“If every student has an opportunity to drop their lowest grade,” Miller said, “GPAs are going to go up, so I think that a major part of what you saw happened.” 

Miller emphasized that student-athletes are in similar positions as non-athlete students in that they took advantage of a policy that improves one’s GPA. Senior women’s soccer midfielder Julia Dolan  saw the policy as a great option since most of her team, including herself, have never experienced an online classroom. 

“I think just giving us a little bit of extra cushion,” Dolan said, “to be able to choose the credit, and I know a lot of us used it to help our GPAs.”

The Fall 2019 GPA for women’s soccer was 3.37, and the Fall 2020 average was 3.6. That is an increase of almost two-tenths of a percent. Across eight selected teams, the GPA increase ranged by half a percentage point. 

Senior Academic Advisor Nicholas Plack, who advises seven teams, makes sure he thoroughly walks through the policy with his athletes. 

“We tried to be really strategic with that,” Plack said. “We tried to figure out what class is best to do it and if their GPA would improve without it.” 

However, both Plack and Miller did mention that not all athletes used the new policy. Plack  explicitly said  some athletes considered the policy as a “cop-out” from their essential classes. 

“They feel like you earn what you earn,” Plack said. “A lot of those individuals from those teams had that same kind of philosophy.” 

Plack referenced the men’s and women’s cross country teams, who earned respective GPAs of 3.67 and 3.9 for the Fall 2020 semester. 

Common feedback from most athletes about their semesters was regarding Zoom exhaustion or Zoom fatigue -the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual communication platforms, according to the Psychiatric Times. 

“A high percentage of [students] don’t like it,” Plack said.  “They crave human interaction and student interaction in their classes.” 

Dolan is one of those athletes who learns better off social interaction among her professors and peers. Many factors contribute to an athlete’s Zoom experience from practices, travel schedules, and just being a student in a pandemic world. 

“As an athlete, we have to have a good relationship with our professors to make sure we’re communicating about travel, practices, and games,”  Dolan said. 

With COVID-19 causing many sudden game cancellations, Plack said there’s always a weekly reminder to athletes to communicate with their professors. That communication caused more faculty to recognize the variety of services the Resnick Center provides.

Before the university’s official announcement of the shutdown in the spring, the academic advising team was already prepared for their remote services. In fact, days before, the team was already testing the Zoom platform on athletes.

“We actually started doing zoom tutoring before with our basketball teams,” Miller said. “We just wanted to work out some of the kinks, see what worked and what didn’t work.” 

The transition to remote work took the staff around three days, according to Miller. That involved moving over 400 tutoring appointments to Zoom and providing his staff with working laptops and Wi-Fi. 

“That Wednesday morning, we started reaching out to students and getting prepared,” Plack said. “We did a questionnaire on technology. We sent that out earlier that week after spring break.”

This semester, more teams are in-season because of the NCAA guidelines, adding a slight shift to the advisors schedules. However, Zoom’s flexibility has benefited their services, especially with their tutoring program.

When an athlete wants a tutor, they’re matched with someone who corresponds with the class and the athlete’s schedule. Learning specialist Katerine Cappetta said  the tutoring hours were shortened virtually. Prior, the center would be open for tutoring until 10 p.m. Now, virtual tutoring hours are until 7 p.m.

“Our tutors have been able to provide an expanded window of availability,” Cappetta said. “Zoom has created opportunities for our athletes to receive support in these windows where they’re able to fit it in.”

Virtual tutoring’s success caught the staff’s eyes and is likely to continue as a service in the future. Before, tutors were not allowed to travel with the teams due to budgeting reasons. Now tutors can travel with the teams virtually. 

“It adds another value to our office,” Plack said. “They can still be trained on how to tutor virtually in case a team is traveling.”

“There is a way to now receive academic support through tutoring remotely,” Cappetta said. “They’re in a team study hall in a hotel in New Orleans; they can now get their macro tutoring and math tutoring.”

Even though Zoom does not appear to be every Temple athlete’s favorite platform to learn from, they won’t have to miss classes because they can attend remotely while traveling. Before, athletes could miss multiple days of classes depending on their schedules. 

“If we have a conflict, we still have the opportunity,” Dolan said. “Where in prior years we haven’t been able to watch class even when it’s after the scheduled time. That’s super beneficial for us.”

Temple is allowing the credit/no credit option for the Spring 2021 semester. Miller believes the rise in GPA averages across teams will continue as long as this option remains.

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