The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



University at top of NCAA graduation rates

Marcela Berrios | Monday, October 8, 2007

Notre Dame tops the list of Division I schools with the highest number of perfect scores in the NCAA’s 2007 analysis of graduation rates for student athletes.

The NCAA figures, released Oct. 3, track the graduation success rate (GSR) – the percentage of student athletes that graduate from the school within six years of enrollment – at 318 Division I colleges and universities across the country. Eighteen of the University’s 22 athletic programs received a GSR score of 100 percent.

Notre Dame received a perfect GSR score in all of its women’s sports – basketball, fencing, golf, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball. This is a slight improvement from last year, when soccer received a 94 percent GSR score, making it the only women’s sport without a perfect mark.

Seven men’s sports (baseball, fencing, hockey, soccer, swimming, tennis, and track field) received perfect scores. And while the basketball, football, golf and lacrosse programs failed to receive 100 percent GSR scores, none received a grade below 90.

They received scores of 91, 93, 91 and 97, respectively.

The football program saw its 2007 GSR drop from 95 percent in 2006, while the golf program slipped from 92 percent last year. Basketball and lacrosse didn’t show any changes from the 2006 figures.

Associate Athletic Director John Heisler said Sunday he didn’t have any specific explanations for these programs’ below-100 scores. Instead, he emphasized the programs’ high marks and their triumph over their national counterparts.

The NCAA report said the average GSR for Division I football programs is 66 percent, while the national graduation rate for basketball players is approximately 61 percent.

“No other school in the country gets [GSR] numbers as good as ours,” Heisler said. “I think our success in graduating so many athletes is simply reflective of our distinctive commitment to academic excellence.”

Heisler cited “a team effort” as one of the biggest contributors to the academic achievements of its student athletes, saying the efforts of the University coaches, administrators and academic support staff contribute to the athletes’ impressive graduation rates.

“The University lets its commitment to academic excellence inform its athletic programs too,” he said, “and so you have here coaches, administrators and an academic support staff dedicated to the support and the advancement of that mission.”

And that dedication has yielded results.

Notre Dame reclaimed this year the highest percentage of perfect GSR scores in the NCAA’s study (81.8 percent of the University’s athletic programs received 100 percent scores), a title that belonged to the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006 and to Notre Dame in 2005, when 16 of its 20 athletic programs earned top marks.

Before 2005, colleges and universities relied on federal graduation rates for these studies. The NCAA developed the GSR two years ago “in response to college and university presidents who wanted graduation data that more accurately reflect the mobility among college students today,” the NCAA Web site said.

The GSR improves the federally mandated graduation rate by adjusting for students who may be omitted or arbitrarily included in the federal calculation.

“The GSR measures graduation rates at Division I institutions and includes students transferring into the institutions,” the NCAA Web site said. “The GSR also allows institutions to subtract student-athletes who leave their institutions prior to graduation as long as they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.”

The federal graduation rates peremptorily account for students who transfer to other colleges or drop out to pursue professional careers as non-graduates.

“You may have a star athlete with a 4.0 GPA who decides to leave to start playing professionally, and rather than treat this as a case of a student who voluntarily left in good academic standing, the federal rate sees it as the school’s failure to graduate this athlete,” Heisler said. “That’s why a school’s federal graduation rates are usually lower than its GSRs.”

Notre Dame’s federal graduation rate for football players is 79 percent, while for men’s basketball and golf the figures are 57 and 75 percent, respectively. For women, the federal graduation rate of basketball is 82 percent, the lowest of any women’s sports. Fencing, golf, lacrosse, tennis and track and field reported federal graduation rates of 100 percent, while swimming reported 96 percent.

Heisler said he didn’t know why for both the GSR and the federal rates, women seemed to score higher than men in most sports. The average GSRs and federal graduation rates of the 318 Division I schools, however, are also higher for women in almost every sport included in the NCAA report, including basketball, soccer, lacrosse, golf, tennis, volleyball and fencing, among other sports.