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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Athlete grad rates still below NCAA average

    Known: Arizona’s student-athletes continue to graduate at higher rates than the general student body.

    Unknown: How effective recent UA efforts will be in raising graduation rates for all but four intercollegiate sports – numbers that still fall short of national averages, according to data the NCAA released yesterday.

    “”We have a challenge overall here, not just with our athletic programs but with our student body,”” said President Robert Shelton. “”This isn’t a rap on students. We need to do better in our four- and six-year graduation rates.””

    UA student-athletes who entered for the 1999-2000 academic year graduated at a 65 percent clip as calculated by the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate.

    The GSR divides the number of incoming athletes, including transfer students, by the number who graduated in the next six years.

    By comparison, other UA students who were freshmen in fall 1999 graduated at a 59 percent rate, and students from the previous four freshman classes graduated at a 56 percent rate.

    Student-athletes have outdone fellow undergraduates in the latter category for 12 of the last 14 years, said senior associate athletic director Kathleen “”Rocky”” LaRose, citing NCAA and athletics department figures.

    But this year marks only the second time in the last 15 years that non-athletes have bested student-athletes (40 percent) when looking at graduates from only the fall 1999 freshman class, LaRose said.

    It is important to assess Arizona’s progress in terms of all three of the NCAA’s categories, LaRose said, because each brings up separate issues to address.

    “”In two out of three areas, we’re still doing OK,”” she said. “”But the one from (only) six years ago wasn’t, and that’s what we’ve tried to react to in the last couple of years.””

    Men’s and women’s cross country and men’s and women’s track and field were the only UA sports to meet their respective Division I-A graduation-rate averages.

    Cross country and track and field, which take place in the fall and spring semesters, respectively, were combined for each gender by the NCAA.

    The women’s group had a rate of 83 percent and the men’s group had a rate of 74 percent, both of which matched the Division I-A marks.

    “”In this sport, it’s probably required to be more studious in (academics),”” said UA cross country head coach James Li. “”They go out and run 10 or more miles every day. They’re pretty dedicated, and they work hard.””

    According to the GSR, the most encompassing NCAA measure because it includes transfers, Arizona’s graduation rates fell most short of the Division I-A average in football (39 percent) and women’s basketball (55 percent), at negative-27 percent each.

    Men’s basketball (42 percent) was next at negative-15 percent.

    The rates for those three sports did not change from GSR figures the NCAA released in September, when Arizona failed to meet national averages in 12 of 16 intercollegiate sports based on student-athletes who entered the school from 1996-1999.

    Cross country wasn’t included in that report. Instead, Arizona had strong showings in women’s swim and dive (91 percent) and men’s swim and dive (82 percent), which both matched NCAA averages.

    NCAA President Myles Brand said in a teleconference yesterday that his goal is to see every university in the nation get its GSR to 80 percent.

    For individual programs that are 25 percent or more below their NCAA averages, he suggested the school assign academic advisors to student-athletes to guide their progress throughout their college careers.

    “”We want to make sure the climate is appropriate to academic success as well as athletic success,”” Brand said.

    LaRose said she has tried to make sure Arizona’s student-athletes are learning rather than simply attending class in recent months.

    In response, on March 1, C.A.T.S. Academic, Arizona’s primary academic help service for student-athletes, began reporting to the university’s office of student retention and enrollment management rather than the athletics department. It also moved to the University College.

    The program’s counselors were supplanted by academic advisers and learning specialists, who have concentrated on more one-on-one interaction with athletes and such in-class skills as reading, writing and taking notes.

    “”It’s kind of like going back to the fundamentals, just like on the playing field,”” LaRose said.

    C.A.T.S. interim director Lynne Tronsdal said the personnel changes were made to reflect complex learning needs of athletes as students, which in turn are aggravated by the pressure they feel to perform well in their sports.

    In addition, advisers and specialists meet weekly with athletes’ head coaches to discuss individual progress and whether to adjust learning goals.

    “”I just think we know the kids a lot better,”” Tronsdal said.

    Other changes in C.A.T.S.’ everyday running includes an extension in its study-time service period to a 12-hour block starting at 9 a.m.

    Athletes were also given the option to study with specialists in the Manuel T. Pacheco Integrated Learning Center, which tends to provide a quieter environment and proximity to classmates.

    “”They’re taking (athletes) out of McKale Center for the first time, but it needed to happen when the responsibility came of being a (University College) thing,”” Tronsdal said.

    With student-athletes receiving more individual help, LaRose said the athletics department has already predicted a 2 to 4 percent jump in graduation rates among freshmen from six years before. She said the four-class rate should stay the same.

    LaRose said she foresees a steady improvement toward Brand’s GSR goal over the next several years.

    “”This isn’t something we’re going to fix overnight,”” she said. “”But we’re still heading in the right direction.””

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