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Wake Forest blends academic, athletic success

December 5, 2006

A small, liberal arts university highly regarded for its academics, Wake Forest University will be the smallest school ever to compete in the Bowl Championship Series when the football team steps onto the field at the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami Jan. 2, 2007.  

Wake Forest, ranked by U.S. News and World Report among the top 30 national universities in the country, has approximately 4,300 undergraduate students and 2,400 graduate and professional school students.  It is among only a handful of private universities to compete in the Bowl Championship Series since the series began.

Nathan O. Hatch, Wake Forest’s 13th president and former provost at the University of Notre Dame, says the football team’s success has drawn considerable attention to the quality of both the academic and athletic programs at Wake Forest.

"A lot of people are asking how a small school known for its academics is able to field NCAA Division I athletic teams that consistently rank among the best in the nation,” Hatch said.  “My answer is:  Wake Forest is the kind of place where excellence thrives.  We have made a commitment to high standards in both academics and athletics.  And, the result is a distinctive educational environment focused on exceptional academic programs, with the excitement of athletic competition at the highest levels.”

Wake Forest’s field hockey team reached the title game of the NCAA Championship this year.  The men’s soccer team was co-champion of the regular season in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season and made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Championship.  Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams were ranked nationally in 2006.  In addition, Wake Forest was the only school in the nation to have its men’s and women’s soccer teams, football team and field hockey team ranked nationally during the 2006 season.

Three Wake Forest coaches, including men’s soccer coach Jay Vidovich, field hockey coach Jennifer Averill and football coach Jim Grobe, were named ACC Coach of the Year in 2006.

A true liberal arts education, like the one offered at Wake Forest, strives to build the whole person – socially, physically, morally and spiritually, Hatch said.  So, it is not a surprise that Wake Forest’s most recent Rhodes Scholar is an athlete.

Michelle Sikes, captain of the women’s cross country and track teams and Wake Forest’s 11th Rhodes Scholar since 1986, is the perfect example of achievement at the highest level in both academics and athletics.  The NCAA Track and Field All-American hopes to qualify for the Olympics, but will also spend the next two years at Oxford University studying global health issues.

"I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to enjoy stimulating academics, membership in an intensely competitive sports conference, and an incomparably supportive and friendly environment during my time here,” Sikes said.

Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman gives credit to coaches for Wake Forest’s successful balancing of academics and athletics.

"We have great coaches who understand Wake Forest and how to win at Wake Forest and support the standards and ideals and values of the university,” Wellman said.  “That’s first and foremost.  Secondly, we have a university that is very supportive of athletics.  The fact that our trustees, our university administration, the faculty, the students, all desire and expect us to excel, helps us to produce the type of program we are enjoying now.”

It is too early to know if athletic success will translate into an increase in applications this year, said Martha Allman, Wake Forest’s director of admissions.

However, “prospective students visiting campus this fall cheer when I mention the football team,” Allman said.  “Their enrollment decisions are based first and foremost on the academic quality of the institution, the faculty, the resources and the opportunities, but they also understand that they are in the process of choosing their home for four years,” Allman said.  “They want to feel community, school spirit, positive energy and excitement and that is demonstrated in a very real sense through athletics.  We’re a great academic school and we’re succeeding on the field.  People like that.”

Hatch, who joined Wake Forest as president in 2005, taught and served in the administration at Notre Dame for three decades, during which time the Fighting Irish football team won national titles and played in numerous bowls, including three appearances in the Orange Bowl.  He looks forward to the opportunity to share Wake Forest’s academic and athletic strengths with a wider audience because of the bowl bid.

"We are a university that defines its identity by a set of creative tensions.  So often, Wake Forest is drawn to say ‘both’ rather than ‘either/or,’” Hatch said. “We compete in big-time athletics without apology while insisting on the highest standards in academics.”

Following are academic highlights that set Wake Forest apart from many other institutions:

  • Wake Forest ranks 30th among 248 national universities in the 2007 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s guide, “America’s Best Colleges.”  The university has been ranked in the top 30 in the national category since 1997.

  • The middle 50 percent of entering students at Wake Forest scored between 1,280 and 1,400 on the SAT.

  • The NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate (GSR), which does not penalize schools for transfer students who leave the school in good academic standing, illustrates the academic success of Wake Forest student-athletes.  Wake Forest’s GSR of 93 percent is third in the ACC behind Duke and Boston College.  Graduation numbers are available on the NCAA Web site at

  • Wake Forest has had 11 students chosen as Rhodes Scholars since 1986.

  • More than 50 percent of Wake Forest undergraduates study abroad.

  • More than half of Wake Forest undergraduates volunteer in the community and around the world.  Wake Forest’s motto is “Pro Humanitate” (for humanity).
  • Wake Forest hosted presidential debates in 2000 and 1988.

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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