The Kirby Cen­ter’s Spring 2015 Class of stu­dents in Wash­ington, D.C. Hillsdale College | Courtesy

When stu­dents return to Hillsdale after a semester in the Wash­ington Hillsdale Internship Program, they have con­fi­dence in their abil­ities, assurance of their career path, and maybe even a job lined up for after grad­u­ation. Every year, however, one-quarter of Hillsdale stu­dents can’t take advantage of one of the college’s best edu­ca­tional oppor­tu­nities due to time and tuition, simply because they are ath­letes.

 At Hillsdale, there are approx­i­mately 375 student ath­letes filling 14 Division II sports teams. Due to NCAA con­tracts and schol­arship eli­gi­bility, most cannot afford to take a semester or year off from their sport. Time is an important factor and there is also a mon­etary cost to staying at Hillsdale beyond four years of ath­letic eli­gi­bility. This problem would be solved through a schol­arship program ded­i­cated to student ath­letes who are inter­ested in WHIP and willing to stay in school beyond four years.

 Sarah Hackman is a junior studying psy­chology. She would like to intern in Wash­ington, D.C., but her tennis season, which spans two semesters, makes that dif­ficult. Prac­ticing and con­di­tioning are a full-time respon­si­bility. 

“I’ve con­sidered the program, but I would have to take a year off and I don’t know that I would be allowed to keep my schol­arship,” Hackman said.

Jack Rowe is a junior on the men’s golf team, but he is tackling WHIP this semester. While in D.C., he is losing playing time because his team is already in season. Because he is part of the George Wash­ington Fel­lowship Program, Rowe has to par­tic­ipate in WHIP, but he sees it as an important investment.

“I know I’m not going to be going pro anytime soon and there is a life after golf so going to D.C. where there is lots of oppor­tunity to get expe­rience is very valuable,” Rowe said.

More ath­letes should have the chance to learn and network through Hillsdale’s D.C. program, but they need help. 

Tuition and time are the biggest obstacles. Financial aid that sup­ports ath­letes who want to enroll in WHIP would make the process much more acces­sible. These stu­dents receive money con­tingent on their par­tic­i­pation in sports, and when they go to D.C., they lose that assis­tance. Schol­ar­ships would make their goals a reality.

So, when should student ath­letes enroll in the program?

 While a fifth aca­demic year is not always an option for those who want to graduate on time, it can often provide a ben­e­ficial bridge to post-graduate life. One recent Hillsdale alumnus found great success in doing the program during his final semester at Hillsdale.

After playing in his fifth-year football season during the fall of 2019 because of a red-shirt freshman year, Nate Can­terbury went on WHIP in the 2020 spring semester. 

“I had no idea what I wanted to do, and WHIP gave me time to figure it out,” Can­terbury said.

The accounting major interned for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R‑Illinois, while living and studying in D.C. When COVID-19 erupted, most stu­dents were sent home to con­tinue intern­ships and classes vir­tually. Can­terbury, on the other hand, was offered a full-time job in Davis’ office. What began in January as an internship had turned into employment by March. Can­terbury has since grad­uated from Hillsdale and con­tinues to work in Con­gress. 

The former student athlete rec­om­mends the WHIP program and believes more ath­letes should have the same oppor­tunity.

“Addi­tional schol­arship to pay for tuition would help a lot of ath­letes to get out here. It’s a financial concern living here on intern pay but I think a lot of coaches would want to help players do the program. I think it’s worth it,” Can­terbury said.

At Hillsdale, ath­letes are stu­dents first. They must meet the same admis­sions stan­dards as other stu­dents, com­plete the same core cur­riculum, and they must maintain certain grades to con­tinue playing their sport. 

Stu­dents are mainly at Hillsdale to learn, but ath­letics can play a part in that. Being on a team teaches dis­ci­pline, coop­er­ation, and resilience. It would be good to create more oppor­tu­nities for these capable student ath­letes advancing their edu­cation and the purpose of the college.

Vice Pres­ident of Wash­ington Oper­a­tions Matthew Spalding oversees the WHIP program. He wants it to be available to all stu­dents.

“It is a life-trans­forming program in my opinion, and every Hillsdale student should have the oppor­tunity to expe­rience it. I am open to any rea­sonable ideas to expand those oppor­tu­nities.  We have had several great ath­letes on the program and I’d love to have more able to par­tic­ipate,” Spalding said in an email.

While there are some oppor­tu­nities to intern in D.C. during the summer months, the expe­rience is dif­ferent. The fall and spring semesters include aca­demic courses, more net­working oppor­tu­nities, and a better selection of intern­ships. For student ath­letes who are serious about WHIP, and willing to postpone their grad­u­ation by a semester or two, a schol­arship to attend the program would help them realize their goals. 

In the room where the Hillsdale College football team meets, a plaque lists three objec­tives. First, they must “earn a Hillsdale College degree,” second, they should “rep­resent Hillsdale College in a first-class manner,” and third, they should strive to “win the GMAC cham­pi­onship.” These goals, written in a par­ticular order, reflect the mission of the college. Even after ath­letic seasons end, stu­dents’ careers are just beginning. There is life after college sports, and just like all stu­dents, ath­letes need to be pre­pared.


Lily McHale is a junior studying political economy.