How Union College is Improving the Student-Athlete Experience

Q&A with Sam Lee, Director of Athletic Recruitment & Retention at Union College (Barbourville, Ky.)

Sam has been the director of athletic enrollment and retention at Union College since 2014. He received both a B.S. in sports management and an M.A. in secondary education from Union, where he was also a member of the school’s golf team.

What are your primary responsibilities as director of athletic recruitment and retention?
Primarily, I serve as the contact for prospective student-athletes. It’s my job to both support our coaches’ recruitment efforts, while simultaneously assisting student-athletes with the admissions process. I also help current student-athletes understand and navigate academic and some eligibility issues.

Why was this position created?
Before this position was created in 2003, student-athletes worked with our general admissions counselors. We found that the admissions process lacked consistency for our incoming student-athletes. Due to the specific culture of collegiate athletics, as well as our numerous athletic programs, it became evident that we needed one person on campus who could deal with the specific needs of student-athletes.

How has it changed over time?
Initially the position was focused on student-athlete recruitment, but we realized the same centralized efforts used for recruitment are also effective for retention. I meet with at-risk student-athletes weekly to help them address academic challenges and work closely with our Student Support Services department to provide the support they need to succeed.

Understanding the recruitment and admissions process is not always easy for student-athletes or their parents. The financial aid process alone can be overwhelming! However, getting them in the door is just the beginning. Many student-athletes benefit from having an advocate within the athletics program looking out for their best interests academically.

What’s the key to successfully performing the job?
This position is all about reliability and relationships. I have to be a reliable resource for student-athletes, their parents, and our coaching staff. If prospective student-athletes and their families don’t feel comfortable with the information and guidance they’re receiving from me, I’m not doing my job.

Developing relationships is also critical to success. I was fortunate to already have close relationships with many of the coaches when I started in this position since I was a student-athlete at Union. Our coaches have varying levels of involvement in the recruitment process so I need to know how I can support them most effectively. Part of my job can include difficult conversations with coaches about prospective student-athletes so it helps to have a good rapport.

How has this position benefited Union’s athletics department and the overall college?
Having one person dedicated to the admissions and retention of student-athletes has many benefits. Our admissions counselors are able to focus on their general recruitment goals without having to worry about all the additional athletics details. Both our coaches and athletic director can dedicate more time to the overall success of the athletic programs. Most importantly, it positions our student-athletes to have the most successful college experience possible – both on and off the field.

Have you seen any measurable enrollment or retention results that could be attributed to this position?Reporting enrollment each semester has become much more efficient and easier to track. We’re also seeing a slight increase in retention each year which is a benefit to the institution as a whole.