The Graduates of League (GOL) Program is a joint initiative and pilot program of the Athletes Education Foundation, University of Wollongong (UOW), National Rugby League (NRL) and three NRL clubs including the St George Illawarra Dragons.
It was established to increase university entry, retention and completion rates of elite athletes and professional sports people.
The program also conducts research into the higher education transition and learning needs of this group.
The founding members of the program are Mr Ben Creagh, Dragons captain and UOW Finance undergraduate student; Dr Sam Jebeile, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Commerce, UOW; Mr Scott Stewart, Dragons Education and Welfare Manager; Mr Stuart Philpot, Finance Analyst at BlueScope Steel; and Mr Paul Heptonstall, Education and Welfare Manager, NRL.
Having interviewed numerous National Rugby League (NRL) & National Youth Competition (NYC) players and NRL executives, the program has identified several key strategic areas that are likely to increase the proportion of NRL players to graduate from UOW.
It is evident that the percentage of NRL players that graduate from university is significantly less than that of the general population in Australia.
The founders believe that the mission and activities of the foundation will assist in enrolment and transition of young rugby league players who would otherwise remain semi-skilled and in some cases unskilled.
The primary goal objective in the inaugural year of the GOL program was to establish strategies and support structures for the transition and learning needs of all NRL and NYC players completing their higher education programs at UOW.
All targeted players attended an initial interview to ascertain their aspirations for higher education. This process included the provision of workshops conducted by senior players involved in higher education.
The GOL Program’s main objectives are to:
1. Assist players in applying and enrolling in their preferred university program.
2. Assist those players who are unable or less certain about their preferred program and to facilitate enrolment in targeted non-award subjects in order to get a "taste of university life".
3. Support players in their transition into university and assist them in obtaining peer support, peer tutoring and peer mentoring.
4. Provide continuous academic mentoring for each player through the entire program including the development of individual study plans and routine meetings.
5. Assist players with the funding of their programs and required materials where necessary. The program will provide a peer mentoring program for each player.
6. Develop an ongoing communication link within a community of learners involving club player students, club education officers and academics within and outside the club. This network will support and foster each player's learning and on and off-campus.
7. Assist in creating an environment conducive to study, the program will work with the NRL clubs, university and other partners to assist with the location and funding of university accommodation.
8. Working with the NRL and key employers in the financial industry to provide training workshops, mentoring, networking opportunities and connecting program members with potential employers.
2012 Pilot Academic Mentoring And Peer Support Program
In 2012 the proposed pilot program adopted a three pronged approach:
1. Each player received one hour of student-peer tuition per subject per week. The peer tutors were employed and supervised by Dr Sam Jebeile based on their academic achievement in the relevant subjects. Study workshops and meetings were also organised and tailored for the student players.
2. Dr Sam Jebeile liaised between the players, the University and the education and welfare officers of the three NRL clubs and provided academic mentoring to each NRL player that was studying at the University of Wollongong. This included the organising of a study plan, ongoing monitoring and employing and support of a student-peer tutor for each player.
3. Senior players provided player-peer mentoring for each player and assisted with the location and employment of student-peer tutors.
In addition to this a small study space in 19.1039 was organised for the program at the University of Wollongong campus. The study room was used for player private study, student-peer tutoring and workshops and meetings. The players also used the CRC room in the Faculty of Education and the UOW Library for meeting peer mentors and working on assignments.
Achievements To Date
The following list outlines some of the achievements from the GOL program as a pilot program in 2012:
• Mentored and enrolled a total of 21 players from across three NRL Clubs
• Recruited 12 new players to UOW from various pathways including HSC, TAFE, other Universities and Higher Education providers. This included three new players from the St George Illawarra Dragons joining the Faculty of Commerce for Spring Session, increasing the number of players in the program to 24 players
• Assisted with the enrolment, accommodation and transition of all new players
• Recruited 21 peer tutors across five faculties and collected weekly progress reports on each player
• Coordinated the five weekly playing and training schedules of all players with their tutors and subject coordinators
• Implemented a research and evaluation project and completed an ethics application
• Achieved positive local and national exposure at NRL conferences, print media, radio and television
• Improved social inclusion objectives with 70% of our NRL players at university being from regional areas, 36% from Indigenous or Islander, 60% are first person in family at university and 80% are earning less than $10,000 per annum
• Program coordination with NRL club recruitment to ensure that future players have access to the GOL program at UOW