By David Porreca Most freshmen arriving at the UI have to adjust to an academic environment far more competitive than the one they faced in high school. But student-athletes confront a double challenge, says Associate Athletic Director Terry Cole. Not only are the academics more competitive, but so are the athletics. "One of the reasons they're here is because they're blessed with an abundance of athletic talent," said Cole, who has been director of academic services for the UI's Division of Intercollegiate Athletics since 1979. But freshmen accustomed to starring against their competition in high school soon find out that the same thing was true for all the other athletes recruited to Division I-A schools. "So while the average student has to make one adjustment to college, student-athletes have to make two," Cole said. "Our office has to make sure that student-athletes make that academic adjustment smoothly." With a staff of four full-time academic counselors, three graduate assistants and a host of volunteer tutors, Cole's department provides services to 450 student-athletes from 17 sports. Last fall, the university's student-athletes earned an overall GPA of 3.8. In addition, according to the most recent statistics, 73 percent of the student-athletes who entered the UI during the 1988-89 academic year have graduated. "We're very proud of our student-athletes," Cole said. "If they graduate and are happy with their experiences here academically and athletically, then I measure our success by that. We want 100 percent of our student-athletes to take advantage of the academic and athletic opportunities they have here." Like most major collegiate athletic programs, Illinois offers its student-athletes a variety of academic assistance, including tutorials, study halls and orientation sessions on how to cope with combining the demands of academics and athletics. Study halls, for example, are mandatory for all freshmen student-athletes and for returning athletes with sub-par averages. The UI academic services department also runs two computer labs for student-athletes, keeps track of their class attendance (student-athletes are allowed a maximum of 10 absences during a semester, not including absences for postseason play), and follows their academic progress by asking their professors to fill out monitoring reports twice each semester. The academic support that UI student-athletes receive begins with an assessment of their skills at the start of their freshmen year. The purpose is to identify academic deficiencies so they can be remedied as quickly as possible. "If any other academic problems come up for a student-athlete during the course of the year, we try to set up a program to address those specific needs," Cole said. But for all of the importance that Cole and his staff place on day-to-day academic assistance, they see their responsibilities as extending beyond the classroom. "We go a step further," Cole said. "We want to prepare student-athletes for the working world with career counseling, resume workshops and job fairs. We try to address other needs with sessions on wellness. This is our holistic approach." The first job fair put on by the academic services department was held several weeks ago, he said. Eighty-five student-athletes came out to meet representatives from 23 area businesses. The fair met with such a favorable response that Cole hopes to make it a regular offering. One important means by which Cole and his staff keep track of problems facing student-athletes is by soliciting the advice of the university's student-athlete advisory board, which includes representatives from each varsity sport. "The board meets almost monthly, and its representatives bring information back to us," Cole said. "One of our best decisions of the past two years was to start that board. We want student-athletes to look on us as people they can come to for advice." Almost inevitably, whenever the subject of student-athletes is raised, the focus shifts to football and men's basketball, the two primary revenue sports. And indeed, one of the standard notions about student-athletes, according to Cole, is that football and basketball players face the greatest demands on their time and therefore must work harder than other student-athletes to combine academics and athletics. But Cole disputed that. "You'd be surprised at how many student-athletes put as much or more time into their own sport as football or basketball players do," he said. What determines and differentiates the workload of student-athletes, Cole said, turns out to be pretty much the same thing that determines and differentiates the workload of all students. "How hard a student-athlete works really depends on an individual commitment," he said. "How good do you want to be? Student-athletes who'd rather be the best are going to work harder."