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.