College admissions standards are meant to determine whether a student is academically prepared to succeed at college. Colleges also have Minimum Admissions Requirements (MARs) and Minimum Course Requirements (MCRs), which are set floors that a would-be student’s test scores, GPA, and completed high school courses can’t fall below for admittance.
In the UNC system, those requirements are already quite low: The minimum combined SAT score is 880 and the ACT score is 17. They also call for six language classes, four math classes, three science classes, and two social studies classes, as well as a 2.5 GPA—a “C” average.
Still, a student who does not meet them can be admitted with a “chancellor’s exception.” Often, the exception is used to chase athletic success: In the 2017-2018 academic year, 63 recruited student-athletes were granted a chancellor’s exception, about 5 percent of recruits.
Though many student-athletes enter a UNC school academically under-prepared, the average student-athlete GPA in the UNC system seems unaffected. All enrolled students average a 2.99 GPA, but student-athletes average a 3.03 GPA.
Graduation rates, however, dampen the success story: nine of 15 UNC schools had federal graduation rates for student-athletes lower than their peer schools. Furthermore, the same number had NCAA graduation success rates lower than their athletic conference peer schools, even though the GSR “allows institutions to exclude student-athletes who leave their institutions prior to graduation as long as they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.”
Do those lower graduation rates have anything to do with the fact that some UNC system schools admit student-athletes who do not meet their academic standards? It is hard to say, but one thing is clear: If a UNC coach wants an athlete badly enough, the rules in place make it easy to admit a sports star, even if their grades would bar a non-athlete from campus.
Madeline Baker was a Martin Center intern in summer 2019. She is pursuing a bachelor of science in International Economics and Finance with a minor in Spanish at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.