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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona’s graduation rates still at the bottom of ‘the Pac’

The University of Arizona has been at the bottom of the Pacific 10 Conference’s Student Athlete Graduation Success Rate since 2005.

Why?

“”Let’s be honest, there are some places that are just eligibility factories,”” said Brent Blanton, associate director of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Academic Support Program for student-athletes. “”That’s all they’re concerned about — are you eligible to play?””

In 2009, Arizona continued on its trend of being at the bottom compared to the other institutions in the conference. In the Report National Averages, released by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Arizona was listed dead last with a 61 percent GSR.

The last place sitting isn’t by a small margin. Arizona is 11 percentage points behind ninth place ASU and 18 percentage points behind the Division I average.

The UA is facing a pivotal question: When does graduation become more important than eligibility? 

In the past five years, Arizona’s average GSR for the men’s basketball program has fallen from 42 percent in 2005 to just 11 percent in the most recent 2009 data.

The men’s baseball team has also taken a dive from 62 percent in 2006 to nearly half that at 32 percent in 2009.

Although the Arizona football program has consistently hovered around 41 percent in the past five years, Arizona is still in the bottom tier when compared around the Pac-10 conference.

And the comparisons get worse when Arizona is compared nationally to the rest of the Division I.

According to the 2009-10 College Football Bowl Study, released on December 22, 2009, by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, the Arizona football team was second to last among 68 Division I teams in terms of overall student athlete graduation rate.

The study is conducted with data from the 2007-08 school years, as well as the previous four years.

Arizona offers academic support programs outside of the athletic program, but there are no additional requirements other than the NCAA standards. Students might go the extra mile on the field or court, but they are not required to do so in the classroom.

Greg Byrne, Arizona’s current athletic director, said he planned to implement changes in the athletic department, like making Arizona’s APR the standard for comparison, that he had seen improve success rates at Mississippi State University, where he served as athletic director for two years.

“”It’s critical,”” Byrne said. “”The first thing I said we have to keep in mind is graduating our student athletes, and, if we don’t’ have that at the forefront, we’re doing a disservice to the young men and the young women’s families who trust this athletic department and this university to allow them to come here.””

Byrne, who has not yet been hired by the Arizona Board of Regents, but officially took over the reins at the helm of Arizona Athletics from interim athletic director Kathleen “”Rocky”” LaRose on May 3, has a special emphasis on raising student athlete graduation rates, something in which NCAA rates have show Arizona has fallen behind.

“”(Byrne) has done a great job both on the athletic side and on the academic side,”” said Arizona President Robert Shelton. “”He is someone that I think fits in with the model of a student athlete, the way indeed that all of our coaches and our athletic staff celebrate both the academic and athletic side of what it means to be a student athlete here at the University of Arizona.””

Byrne will have to use a new approach to turn the athletic program’s academic success around and avoid the trend of being just an “”eligibility factory.””

Mike Meade, director of Commitment to an Athlete’s Total Success Academic Services for Student Athletes at Arizona, said that by evaluating the most recent data, he is able to reflect immediate changes in the structure of athletic support programs available to student athletes.

“”APR is the new measurement that is utilized to give a real-time assessment on what sport programs are doing now,”” Meade said.

Meade also said that the 2009 Federal Graduation Rate (Fed. Rate) and the 2009 GSR were based on data from student athletes that began at Arizona between the years of 1999 and 2002.

“”What was in effect here at that point and time is dramatically different from the support model that we have in place at this point,”” Meade said. “”You could basically argue that there is a 10- or 11-year lag between what is considered our current graduation rate versus what group of people that actually references.””

Meade said that Arizona has had a program in place for three years that has dramatically changed the way the C.A.T.S. program offers academic support, but time will be the judge. Those numbers won’t be reflected until the NCAA data for the 2014 school years are released.

For now Byrne and his new staff will have to change the culture surrounding Arizona graduation rates one year at a time.

“”We’re going to tell people what the vision is, where we’re going with it and what their role is to making that happen,”” Byrne said. “”We’re going to make sure we spend lots of time on teaching them life skills and the development of them both on the fields and courts and pools and everywhere and off the field as well.””

Definitions:

• Federal Graduate Rate: Six-year proportion calculated by the government of those student-athletes (on athletically-related aid during their first year of enrollment) who graduated as compared to all students who entered the institution. This is a freshman-cohort as it only includes first-time students who enter an institution in the fall semester so the data is somewhat incomplete. 

•Graduation Success Rate (GSR): New graduation rate that is primarily based on the rate defined above, but the GSR accounts for student-athletes who are mid-year admits and who transfer into the institution. The GSR also discounts student-athletes who separate from the institution and would have been academically eligible to compete had they returned

•Academic Progress Rate (APR): measure the success or failure of collegiate athletic teams in moving student athletes towards graduation based on data from one year prior through up to four years in the past.

 

 — Definitions adapted from giantmultimedia.com/graham/academics/graduation.html

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