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ND near top of graduation ratings

Joe Piarulli | Monday, November 20, 2006

If there were a national championship combining academics and athletics, Notre Dame might have a tough time finding room for its trophies.

In the latest NCAA student-athlete graduation ratings, Notre Dame set a gold standard among the 118 Division 1-A football-playing colleges and universities, placing near the top of virtually every reported category.

Though there are no trophies, the rankings, released Nov. 9, serve to measure a school’s success in graduating its athletes.

The 16th annual federally mandated NCAA Graduation Rates Report included students who enrolled between 1996 and 1999. The NCAA bases graduation rates on the percentage of student-athletes who enter a school and graduate within six years. Students who transfer out are considered non-graduates.

Notre Dame graduated 89 percent of its student-athletes, behind only Duke University at 90 percent.

Associate athletic director John Heisler called the rankings a big honor.

“I think it underscores the commitment of the student-athletes and the commitment of the institution to be able to combine athletics and academics at a very high level,” he said. “You need to combine those [graduation ratings] with the fact that we’re coming off – this past school year – the most successful across-the-board season in our history in terms of athletics, and it probably becomes more impressive that our student-athletes have continued to graduate at a very high level.”

Notre Dame ranks second on the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate, with a 98 percent, behind only the United States Naval Academy. The GSR, created two years ago to more accurately reflect actual graduation rates by including transfer data in the calculation, was partially a response to the frequency and ease with which students transfer schools.

Notre Dame graduated 87 percent of all male varsity athletes, tying for first with Stanford and Duke on the federal calculations.

Notre Dame’s 94 percent graduation rate of female athletes was second behind Northwestern at 95 percent.

“In all those various categories, we may not be number one, but we’re certainly in the conversation in all those different areas,” Heisler said. “I think that shows that the people that are making the decisions to come here are committed to getting their degree and you’ve also got an institution that’s committed to supporting that mission.”

Heisler said the fact that the NCAA rankings are based on students graduating within six years has almost no implications for the Irish.

“That’s probably more reflective of the collegiate culture as a whole … the vast majority of our students are finishing in four years,” he said, noting that in recent years, all of Notre Dame’s fifth-year football players had graduated before that fifth year.

The national graduation average in football is 55 percent, according to the GSR report. At Notre Dame, the number is 84 percent, which ranks sixth.

In the GSR standings, Notre Dame football’s rates finished third at 95 percent behind the Naval Academy and Boston College.

“Whatever you want to say about what [head football coach] Charlie Weis has done on the field, these last two semesters were the first time that the football program has ever been over a 3.0 in terms of a team GPA,” Heisler said. “Being a student and being an athlete – those things don’t have to be exclusive from each other, and I think that’s the culture that’s been created over a long period of time here.”

Part of the success, but also part of the challenge, Heisler said, “is trying to find people who have [great] abilities on the field, who also have those same high objectives when it comes to what they’re doing in the classroom.”

“You’re dealing with some very high profile student-athletes in all of these different sports,” he said.