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Admissions discusses early enrollment process

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More than six years ago, with the number of high school players opting for early enrollment skyrocketing, Notre Dame realized it was at a competitive disadvantage unless it instituted a similar policy of its own.

So that’s exactly what the University did.

With three early enrollees already taking classes at Notre Dame this semester, only six weeks after they were in sitting in high school classrooms, the total the University has admitted in seven years is 24.

“We were approached at the time about this possibility of enrolling students in essence early after three-and-a-half years of high school and it clearly was a reflection of the changing world of particularly football recruitment,” Director of Admissions Bob Mundy said. “So we obviously agreed that we would consider it and it’s been a pretty modest number here.

“It’s a challenge for students. Students in high school have to be planning this in advance so that they meet all the graduation requirements.”

Former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier is regarded as one of the first high-profile players to enroll early out of high school, a move he made in 1991. There was no NCAA policy against early enrollment, but the practice did not gain much momentum until the early 2000s.

According to USA Today, 15 players from BCS conferences enrolled early in 2002, 53 in 2006 (the first year Notre Dame implemented the policy), 110 in 2009 and an all-time high of 141 in 2010. No total has yet been released for 2012.

“In general, when there is a shift in access policies by the NCAA, we’re always going to have to look at those issues to make sure it fits what we do at Notre Dame and it also keeps the programs competitive with what’s going on out there,” Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment Don Bishop said. “But it has to serve both purposes. It has to be a reasonable accommodation to a change in the competitive environment that’s out there in recruiting, but also it still has to fit with what Notre Dame does. It’s never going to be just one side.”

Bishop said the decision of whether to accept an early enrollee is a collaborative effort between the admissions office, the football program and the athletic department.

“We take real care, as does the football office, in that we interview these students. We really look them in the eye and talk to them about life in college and at Notre Dame,” Bishop said. “So this is not just a football decision they’re making; it’s an academic, it’s a personal and an athletic decision.

“We give that feedback back to the coaches. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the people we’ve been meeting … I think that the kids that are coming here are coming with a very specific sense that Notre Dame is a unique place and that they need to buy into that.”

Of Notre Dame’s 24 early enrollees, eight have graduated, two have transferred and 13 are still enrolled at the University. Safety Chris Badger has been on a two-year mission and is expected to return to school this summer.

Because Notre Dame has such a small sample size at this point, it is too early to notice any trends, Bishop said.

“We have not seen any concerns as to retention issues. If you look at normal retention patterns, they fit within that, although you’re only looking at how many have now gone through graduation, especially with five-year eligibility now being in play, so it’s a little early to be talking about trends,” he said. “With that said, what we’ve seen with the progress of student-athletes, academically, socially, on campus, their desire to remain in-state, successful, is all fine.

“Is there an advantage these students benefitted from as far as athletically on the field, or GPA-wise or graduation? [We] haven’t seen enough of that to say yes to that, but we haven’t any problems, either. Rest assured, if we see problems, we are willing to make corrections into any future decision-making process.”

A shift in transfer policy?

In August, freshman offensive lineman Jordan Prestwood transferred from Florida State to Notre Dame, becoming the first scholarship transfer the Irish have taken in decades.

Notre Dame, who had received Prestwood’s commitment during the recruitment process before he ultimately flipped to the Seminoles, did not wait decades before accepting its next transfer. USC freshman running back Amir Carlisle transferred from the rival Trojans to Notre Dame in January and enrolled at the University for second semester classes.

Bishop, who cannot discuss individual cases, said the addition of the two players did not represent a shift in the transfer policy.

“While we had not had [mid-year scholarship transfers] before, when we were asked this, we employed the same treatment to these transfer kids that we would to any non-athlete requesting it,” he said. “We just didn’t feel they should be singled out and not given the same access that other students did.

“I can’t speak to why it wasn’t asked for [by the football program] before, but when it was asked for and we looked at our policies, we said, ‘Yes. We do this. We do take mid-year transfers.'”

Mundy said the University often receives calls during the summer or after a semester from students regretting the decision not to attend Notre Dame. If the student had been previously admitted to Notre Dame, their case is reviewed if the University has open spots.

While football recruits typically do not officially apply to a school until they are committed, the admissions office has completed a vetting process with all players considering Notre Dame, Bishop said.

“If we were unfamiliar with them completely and there wasn’t much information available, then no, we would not be moving forward on them,” he said. “The only cases we’ve been given is where we already knew them pretty well through the process. They went through the whole process.”

Mundy said admissions meets with a recruit during the process, reviews high school transcripts, test scores and senior schedules and tells the football program whether they can continue to recruit the athlete.

“If that student commits to another place, he’s not going to apply to Notre Dame, so we never had the opportunity to admit him, but the implication clearly is that we would have.”

Bishop said it is unlikely that the Admissions Department would be unfamiliar with a football player looking to transfer because of how widely Notre Dame seeks out players during recruitment.

“The football program is so thorough that they’ve engaged every student-athlete in the country who has reasonable academics for Notre Dame, who is a high talent,” Bishop said. “They don’t miss those. I don’t know if there will ever be a case where they will present somebody that was not recruited, who was not a part of a process with us. … They already know the top kids in the country, they’re already recruiting them.”