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Athlete graduation rate ranked No.1 in nation

Irena Zajickova | Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In addition to the various awards and accolades Notre Dame’s athletic teams have received this year, the athletic department was recently ranked first in the nation in graduation success rate (GSR).

Notre Dame’s 98 percent success rate is equaled only by the United States Naval Academy. Fourteen of the university’s athletic teams were ranked in the top ten in the nation, which is the most of any university. It is also a record for Notre Dame, who had 11 athletic teams in the top ten last year.

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said being ranked number one in the country is a tremendous achievement.

“We have the same reaction to winning the GSR as we do to our women’s basketball team winning the Final Four in St. Louis or the soccer team, the women’s soccer team, winning the NCAA championship,” Swarbrick said in a video available on Notre Dame’s Web site. “That’s our goal and when we count our national championships at this university we’re counting GSR performance as a national championship win.”

According to John Heisler, the senior associate athletics director, the NCAA measures the GSR by studying each of the 119 Division I colleges and universities in areas of academic eligibility and retention of student-athletes. This means that when student athletes drop out or transfer due to academics, the school’s GSR measurement will decrease.

Heisler said student athletes at Notre Dame succeed academically because of the various support systems they have.

“You’ve got coaches and people here who are supporting them, as well as Academic Services for Student Athletes,” Heisler said.

Academic Services for Student Athletes provides help in many areas, including tutoring and making sure students are on track to graduate. Ever since the organization has stepped up its efforts, the student athletes’ grade point averages have risen every semester.

“The whole notion [of Academic Services for Student-Athletes] is to keep them on track,” Heisler said. “It’s a tremendously valuable service relative to our athletic department.”

Student athletes at Notre Dame face many challenges in succeeding academically, including a lack of time to study and increasingly long training programs.

“[One of the challenges is] probably just the time involved,” Heisler said. “If you’re a varsity athlete, there’s just not enough hours in the day. Also, there’s just not much of an off season when it comes to athletics anymore.”

Heisler said Notre Dame student athletes are aware of the rigors of the curriculum when they get here – and in many cases it even influences their decision to attend – which is part of the reason they do so well.

“I think if you come here even as a student athlete, you absolutely understand [how difficult the work will be],” Heisler said. “It’s a big part of why you come here.”