In the Fall of 2015, Pfeiffer President Dr. Colleen Keith and VP for Athletics Bob Reasso, sat down to answer questions about Pfeiffer's transition from Division II to Division III. Now, less than two years later, we look back at the original interview as we prepare to start a new tradition in Division III and the USA South Athletic Conference.
Before we go back, here is an update on where Pfeiffer is today from President Keith.
"In the Fall of 2015, after much discussion and research, Pfeiffer made the decision to apply to the NCAA to move our athletic program from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division III and sharpen on focus on the "student" in the term "student-athlete." Pfeiffer's size and operating budget fits well in the Division III model, and as we move into Fall 2017 we are seeing the positive impact in new student recruitment as a result, with dozens more paid deposits. This move allowed us to apply scholarship aid more equitably across the entire student body, and reward more students for strong academic performance. Then, our student-athletes are able to more fully participate in the breadth of student life and academics, including internships, because the practice requirements for athletics includes more time to focus on academics in Division III. We are excited to begin competition in the USA South Athletic Conference in Fall 2017, which will be the largest Division III conference in the country at that time. Pfeiffer's move to Division III is one more exciting development for us, in addition to a new home for our graduate and degree completion programs in Charlotte and the upcoming start of our graduate health science programs in Albemarle."
This article ran in Pfeiffer's Alumni Magazine in the Fall of 2015.
Why is Division III a good fit for Pfeiffer?
Bob Reasso: I've coached teams in Division I, II and III all over the country. Since the moment I arrived at Pfeiffer, I recognized an alignment with Division III and that it might be the best choice. This is based on our size, facilities, budget and overall approach to educating students, athletes and non-athletes alike. Pfeiffer's growing strength is a focus on educating the whole student—making sure each has an academic experience that provides time and opportunity for internships, study abroad and campus leadership, the stuff that today's employers are very clear about when they make hiring decisions.
Colleen Perry Keith: Bob's referring to Pfeiffer Journey, a program for all students implemented a couple of years ago and around which the academic core now revolves. One of its most critical components is experiential learning, which requires all students to complete career-based internships as part of their graduation requirement. As the program has progressed, we've discovered that student-athletes from majors that require clinical hours or specific types of internships are having a hard time fulfilling those due to the year-round practice schedules and lack of off-seasons that are prevalent with Division II athletics. Some students are squeezing in clinicals during their holiday breaks, a time when they should be recharging their batteries. With Division III, specific off-seasons allow students to schedule internships and other activities in ways that assure they graduate on time. As we step up our academic game to meet the demands of Pfeiffer Journey—a program available only at Pfeiffer—and attract high-quality students who may or may not be athletes, we have to restructure the ways we do certain things.
What do you say to criticism that this decision is "all about money?"
BR: Budget is one factor in this decision. But in a way that would probably surprise a lot of people because switching to Division III won't actually save Pfeiffer money. What it does is allow us to allocate the same dollars in different ways across the institution. Right now, excellent student-athletes are recruited in accordance with Division II guidelines, with athletics scholarships that cover most or all of the cost of a Pfeiffer education. This consumes the majority of available institutional aid, leaving comparatively little for great students who are not athletes and deserve academic merit scholarships. This model, which has been in place for almost two decades, is simply no longer sustainable. In fact, we've learned from the NCAA that a number of Division II schools nationwide are considering a similar move because it's clear that building enrollment based on athletics no longer works. Brevard College, which is just south of Asheville, announced last spring that it has done so for reasons that are similar to Pfeiffer's.
CPK: With a high percentage of our student body receiving substantial athletics scholarships, it's not possible to offer comparable support to non-athletes and we're losing them to schools that can provide what they need and deserve. To achieve the recommended balance to sustain support for all students, we're aiming for student-athletes to compose one-quarter to one-third of the total student population. It won't happen overnight, of course. To drive home Bob's point, last summer we lost 32 excellent incoming, non-athlete freshmen who had sent deposits to Pfeiffer because they decided last-minute to enroll elsewhere. When I reached out to the students or their parents to inquire why, the consistent theme was a combination of academics and scholarship support. They got better offers from schools whose academic programs provide what they are looking for—even though they were positive about Pfeiffer's facilities and curricula.
How will a switch to Division IIII solve this problem?
BR: It's no secret that Division III schools do not offer scholarships specifically for athletics. That said, student-athletes who are good students will qualify for academic awards. Scholarships will be available for all students—defined as merit and needs-based aid rather than athletics support. More students of all kinds will be able to choose Pfeiffer more equitably.
CPK: Plus Pfeiffer will finally be able to provide each team with a competitive operating budget, something our athletics department, currently the lowest funded in Conference Carolinas, has been unable to support. This would minimize the annual fundraising that teams conduct to raise money to supplement the team budget. We'll be able to take better care of our student-athletes, assuring a high-quality student-athlete experience.
What will happen to the scholarships of current student-athletes?
BR: All current student-athletes will retain the scholarships promised to them through what is expected to be their senior year—something students and parents were told when the announcement was made. In fact, nothing at all will change for juniors and seniors as the transition to DIII is scheduled to begin in fall 2017—with the process expected to be complete by fall 2019. Freshmen and sophomores will keep their scholarships during the transition.
What kind of schools will the Falcons compete against with a switch to Division III?
CPK: If Pfeiffer is accepted to Division III and a new conference in the southeast—decisions that will be made within the coming weeks and months—we will likely face competitive teams from high-quality independent, liberal arts schools similar to Pfeiffer from the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and adjacent states.
BR: NCAA Division III comprises 450 colleges and universities nationwide, primarily in the Northeast and Midwest with a growing presence in the South. Most DIII schools are highly regarded for academics as well as athletics. A few well-known examples are Amherst College in Massachusetts, Catholic University, Washington, D.C., Emory University in Atlanta, and most of the SUNY schools in the New York State university system. More locally, North Carolina Wesleyan, Greensboro College, Ferrum College and Methodist University are on the list. We'd be in good company and will be regarded as on par with these schools athletically and academically, which should help with recruiting institution-wide. We envision a more robust Athletics department with solid budgets and improved facilities. The decision seems so sudden.
What's the rush to switch to DIII?
BR: This is something that made sense to President Keith when she arrived in July. The NCAA requires us to share the information first with our student-athletes, followed by faculty and staff. The same day, we informed parents, alumni and the general public. Highly competitive athletics has always been a part of the Pfeiffer tradition—and that has looked different throughout our history. In the past, the Falcons have played in various leagues and conferences, including the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics until 1995, with field hockey and wrestling preceding our other teams to the NCAA. Movement among leagues and conferences is very common among Divisions I, II and III. It's one change among many included in President Keith's vision for Pfeiffer, which is taking shape against a rapidly changing higher education landscape. Division III fits Pfeiffer's needs and profile now and in the years to come—and sets us up for a positive future. Is it different from when many alums—myself included—went to Pfeiffer? Sure. But like all successful, dynamic institutions, Pfeiffer is responding to a changing environment with open mindedness and flexibility.
CPK: As Bob said, this change is just one of several designed to support the goals mentioned, significantly strengthen Pfeiffer's financial position over the coming years and preserve its tradition of outstanding academics and competitive athletics. Among these are updating several of our liberal arts degree programs, a move designed to improve student retention; implementing two new health science graduate programs in Misenheimer, bringing adult students to live and work in the area; developing creative summer camp programs that broaden awareness for Pfeiffer; expanding our recruitment footprint up the east coast and into the Midwest as well as becoming more intentional about the recruitment of international students; and selling our Charlotte property and relocating that campus, which will free up funds in general. We hope that alumni and friends of Pfeiffer get behind our intention to enroll more general students than student-athletes, better fund high-interest undergraduate academic programs and improve support for athletic programs—all for a stronger Pfeiffer.