Student-athletes face the daunting task of keeping up with their studies while also devoting considerable time to practicing, competing, and traveling. That pressure extends upward to coaches, administrators, and faculty members, who are required to assess student progress and make adjustments amidst wildly varying schedules.
Complicating matters at Paradise Valley Community College (Ariz.) were inefficient assessment models that saw two athletics staffers spending nearly a third of their time collecting information from various sources and hand-collating data to monitor eligibility, track progress, and intervene as soon as possible if a student-athlete began floundering academically.
"They were doing all of this by hand," says Carol Myers, director of college technology. "Excel spreadsheets, paper letters to faculty. It seemed like it was taking an inordinate amount of time tracking everything down. It just made sense to try to automate this."
Unable to find the right software for purchase, Myers and her colleagues developed and implemented their own digital process that greatly streamlined assessment and reporting. The Puma Athletic Web System (PAWS) makes it much easier for PVCC to adhere to external and internal eligibility requirements by empowering users throughout the assessment process—students, faculty, coaches, and administrators—to carry out their duties online.
Student-athletes, for example, have instant access to class schedules, faculty contact information, comments on academic progress, and their degree-completion status. Coaches can track their players' enrollment status, comments by faculty, and adherence to tutoring requirements.
At least twice a semester, faculty members are required to log into PAWS and report on the academic status of all student-athletes in their classes. Should a student need extra help, the system includes several levels of "concern" that the instructor can select via drop-down menu, automatically triggering e-mails to coaches and mentors to prompt academic intervention. PAWS allows faculty to contact coaches, mentors, and student-athletes simultaneously. Athletics administrators use PAWS' reporting function to aggregate eligibility and academic data in formats that allow for easy viewing and analysis.
Myers estimates that PAWS has saved the Athletics Department and faculty members 240 hours a semester in inefficient paper shuffling.
"It allows them to interface more with the student-athletes, especially if there are concerns submitted by faculty," she says. "They're able to do better early intervention because they're not focused on gathering the paperwork. They're able to spend more time coaching the student-athletes and doing the administrative stuff they're required to do for athletics—to do their normal jobs."
The early alert system improves students' chances for classroom success, she adds, and because PAWS was written using open source, other schools in the Maricopa County Community College district can adapt it easily to meet their own needs.
On top of all that, the process has fostered new relationships that could lead to greater efficiencies elsewhere on campus.
"Various groups throughout the institution that were not used to working together came together and collaborated and built some very strong ties," Myers says. "This has led to other areas of the institution opening up and saying, 'We have some areas where we think we could be more efficient; do you think IT could help us?' "