Clarion University Looking to Usher in New Level of Excellence for Intercollegiate Athletics Program

CLARION, Pa. – Thanks to the hard work and countless hours committed to this project by the volunteer members of the Clarion University Intercollegiate Athletics Task Force, a number of recommendations to take the program to the next level were accepted by President Karen M. Whitney, Ph.D.

“This plan ushers in a new era of excellence for our intercollegiate sports program,” Whitney said. “I am confident that courageously acting upon this plan will increase our intercollegiate student athlete competitiveness and will place us in a position to build upon our heritage of winning programs.”

“I am impressed by the thorough and conscientious review by the task force,” said Whitney. “These individuals gave generously of their time and expertise over the course of the year. I couldn’t be more pleased with their outcome.”

Students were integral in the work of the task force. The Clarion Students’ Association, seeing firsthand the benefits and sense of pride across campus that a strong athletics program creates, voted to substantially increase its allocation to the athletic department. The result is a 20 percent increase in the athletic department operating budget.

Whitney accepted the task force’s recommendation to strategically invest to increase our ability to compete, through enhanced scholarship funding, in four current athletics programs – women’s volleyball, women’s swimming and diving, men’s football and men’s wrestling. These sports were recommended by the task force by virtue of a matrix of parameters which included impact on enrollment, student engagement, history of alumni support, and involvement in campus and community activities.

Overall, scholarship funding for athletics will increase by 27 percent over a five-year period, through a combination of funding sources, including a new athletics fundraising initiative. Details of the fundraising initiative are still being developed.

“These are the programs that will impact enrollment and our reputation the most,” Whitney said. “We will also see an uptick in student engagement, academic and athletic competition, as well as community and alumni support.”

As a result of the recommendations, Clarion will also be increasing opportunities for women through the expansion of the women’s athletics programs. The women’s cross country/track and field program will be
enhanced in order to increase the program by 59 new students over five years. That enhancement includes the hiring of a new head cross country coach and the expansion and resurfacing of an eight-lane track through a combination of fundraising and capital funding.

Additionally, all women students will be asked to complete a survey to identify athletic sports programs of interest to them. The university hopes to attract, at least, 46 new students to Clarion through the creation of an additional sport. Although the task force recommended the addition of a lacrosse program, a final decision will be made pending the results of the survey.

Personnel will be added to the athletics program, including an equipment manager, an athletic trainer and a new head coach for the additional women’s athletics program.

“The success of our students was priority number one when we began our work,” said Clarion Council of Trustees member Milissa Bauer (’84), who participated on the task force. “We focused on how best to influence recruitment, retention and graduation rates.”

At Clarion, participation in athletics has a positive impact on enrollment and graduation rates: The graduation rate for athletes is 14 percent higher than for the general student body.

Clarion’s percentage of scholar-athletes athletes who meet high academic criteria – continues to rise. On top of that, Clarion’s top-performing athletes consistently earn accolades for excellence in academic performance. From 2007-08 to 2013-14, the enrollment of student-athletes has increased by almost 15 percent, and the retention rates have averaged over 90 percent annually.

“An NCAA study found that the number of student-athletes participating is increasing,” Bauer said. “It also indicated a demand for sports at the collegiate level by college-bound students.”

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