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Athletes win NCAA graduation rate award

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Not only can they kick a field goal, serve an ace and win a race – they can graduate, too.

After finishing second last year, Notre Dame student-athletes earned top honors in the 2003 USA Today/NCAA Academic Achievement Awards, a distinction announced Sept. 2.

Ninety-two percent of Notre Dame student-athletes who enrolled in 1996 graduated from the University, constituting the highest overall graduation rate among NCAA Division I-A universities. For student-athletes who completed all four years of athletic eligibility, the rate was even higher, at 99 percent.

Tulsa University came in second by three percentage points, followed by Wisconsin and Duke at 88 percent each, Northwestern at 87 and Boston College at 86. Rice won in 2002 with 91 percent.

NCAA compilations of graduation rates are determined by the raw percentage of student-athletes who entered a university and graduated within six years. Non-graduates include student athletes who transfer, join a professional organization or leave the university for various other reasons.

Academic Achievement Awards are also granted to the universities that show the most improvement from the previous year, as well as to those who have the best student-athlete graduation rates in comparison to the entire undergraduate student body. This year, the University of Oklahoma won the first category with a 40 percent rate of improvement. Boise State University won the second with a 33 percent advantage for student-athletes as compared to the overall student body average.

A $2.9 million grant from USA Today first made the prizes possible three years ago. The grant was the largest in NCAA history, and the top institution in each category receives $20,000. The prize money can be used for any purpose; past awards have been used to fund additional scholarships, to support existing programs and to finance new ones.

A reception will be held at the USA Today headquarters in McLean, Va. to recognize the winners, which also include schools from Division I-AA, Division I-AAA, Division II and Division III. The ceremony will take place Nov. 7 and will feature presentations from NCAA president Myles Brand and USA Today publisher Craig Moon.