UNC inviting ex-athletes back to complete degrees

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina is inviting former scholarship athletes who left before completing coursework to return and earn their degrees.

Chancellor Carol Folt said the “Complete Carolina” program will be available for athletes who were in good academic standing when they left. Athletes would receive scholarships or financial support in line with their initial time at UNC, though at current-day costs for attendance.

The program will start the readmission process for the former athletes, whether they left early to enter a professional sports league or for personal reasons. It would then provide academic and career counseling along the way.

The athletic department will fund the program, which Folt called “a pledge for their lives.”

“We hope we can get as many students attracted as possible,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said, “because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Folt told UNC’s board of trustees Thursday that the program will start receiving applications in September. She says the school has offered these opportunities informally for years but is now formalizing the program.

The school typically has around 800 student-athletes each year in 28 varsity sports. Athletic department spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school provided 300¼ scholarships — combining full and partial aid — to 465 athletes for the 2013-14 academic year.

Several schools have similar programs, with Kirschner citing Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Michigan. Ohio State began its program in 1994, while UNC’s neighbor North Carolina State started its “Reconnect” program in 2008.

Indiana recently unveiled an athlete bill of rights that included a program paying for the tuition plus books and fees for an undergraduate degree for any scholarship athlete who was eligible at least two seasons.

Academics for athletes has been a sensitive issue at UNC amid a long-running fraud scandal in a department featuring classes with significant athlete enrollments. The school hired an independent investigator to find the causes of the fraud, while the NCAA has reopened an earlier investigation into academic misconduct.

“Part of the national discussion is what do we provide for students — we provide them an education,” Cunningham said. “That’s what the collegiate model is, so we want to fulfill that obligation for all of our students.”

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