WASHINGTON- Student-athletes at the University of Maryland, College Park, are graduating at the highest rate ever, according to statistics released Thursday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the department of education data, student-athletes who enrolled in fall 1998 and received athletic scholarships graduated at a 70 percent rate, just behind the university’s record-setting overall graduation rate of 73 percent.
“We were very excited and very proud of that number,” said Anton Goff, the assistant athletic director for academic support. “Being very close to the campus (graduation rate) makes us very proud.”
Data gathered by the NCAA under a separate system that accounts for transfer students showed that 76 percent of student-athletes graduated, which matches the national average.
Nationally, the U.S. data show that 62 percent of Division I student-athletes from the class of 1998 graduated within six years, compared to 60 percent of all students. The University of Maryland has consistently improved its graduation rate among student-athletes during the past 13 years. In 1993, only 54 percent graduated.
The athletics department is now emphasizing academics more than ever, said Kathy Worthington, the executive senior associate athletic director.
“We look at grades as much as we look at wins and losses,” Worthington said.
This year, the university spent $1.2 million on academic support, she said. The department has 14 full-time staff members for student services, and each athletic team has its own academic counselor. The department also participates in a program for students with learning disabilities.
Perhaps most important, student-athletes have to answer to their coaches, Goff said. Coaches are aware of how their players are performing in the classroom and communicate regularly with professors and parents.
“The coaches are an authority on academics,” Goff said. “If the coaches are not happy, they will let parents know what’s going on academically.”
Worthington said coaches are evaluated not only by how their team’s winning percentage, but also by players’ grade-point averages.
“Our coaches recognize they have to be successful in both areas, or they’re not going to be coaches here,” she said.
Higher admissions standards and more stringent academic rules at the NCAA level also have led to success in the classroom, Goff said.
Among the teams at Maryland with the highest graduation rate was the football team – 79 percent of which graduated within six years. In contrast, the graduation rate for football players nationally was 54 percent. A factor aiding Maryland was that five members of the team who played last fall had graduated already.
According to the department of education report, men’s basketball had the lowest nationwide graduation rate at 44 percent. No members of the Maryland men’s basketball team who started as freshmen in 1998-99 graduated.
In addition to the U.S. data, the NCAA released its first Graduation Success Rate (GSR) report for athletic programs. The GSR aims to portray graduation rates more accurately than the U.S. data by counting all student-athletes, including transfer students. The U.S. formula in effect penalizes schools when student-athletes on scholarship leave in good academic standing – such as those who leave early to play professionally – and does not account for transfers or students not receiving athletics scholarships.
The NCAA developed the GSR last year to reflect the rising number of college students who change schools at least once during their careers. About 60 percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree attend more than one school, according to the NCAA.
The university is also expected to receive above-average ratings when the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rating (APR) is released in about six weeks, Goff said. The APR, which appeared for the first time, is a formula the NCAA developed to determine which schools are not graduating at least 50 percent of their players.
Under NCAA rules, teams that finish with a below-average APR are subject to lose as much as 10 percent of their scholarships.
The NCAA began tracking graduation rates in 1984, and student-athletes have graduated in higher proportions than the general student body since 1986. – 30 – 01-20-2006