Student-athlete grad rate down

Despite having the best academic reputation in the Atlantic 10, GW is among the worst schools in the conference at retaining and graduating student-athletes.

U.S. News & World Report ranks GW higher than any other A-10 school in academics, but about 40 percent of freshman student-athletes do not play all four years and graduate from GW, according to a recent NCAA report.

The University’s 59 percent student-athlete graduation rate is 15 points lower than the percentage of all GW students that start and finish here, down 14 percent from the previous year.

The NCAA calculated the graduation rates by measuring the percentage of student-athletes that entered college in 1995-96 and graduated from the same school by August 2001.

Athletes that transfer or leave their teams for other reasons are counted as non-graduates, a fact that has drawn criticism from athletic officials. On average, 96 percent of GW students that stayed on their teams graduated within six years, which ranks GW among the nation’s best schools in this category.

GW’s student-athlete graduation rate also fell one point below the NCAA Division I average, which reached 60 percent for the first time since the NCAA began tracking graduation rates 18 years ago.

“We have to be held accountable, there’s no denying that,” GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz said. “But when you talk about kids who leave in good academic standing, whether they transfer or go to the pros, those kids are counted as non-graduates, and that’s misleading.”

Kvancz said the 96 percent figure, the number of GW athletes that graduate, is the only accurate indication of academic success.

The four-class graduation rate, which accounts for unusual fluctuations by averaging the rate for the 1995-96 freshman class with that of the three previous classes, was 68 percent for GW student-athletes, nine points above the national Division I average. GW’s four-class average was also just below the 70 percent figure for all Division I private schools.

Prominent academic and athletic schools like Duke, Georgetown and Stanford universities tallied single-year student-athlete graduation rates of 90 percent. Only Rhode Island, Temple and Massachusetts had lower rates in the A-10.

The four-class average graduation rates were the lowest for the baseball team at 37 percent and the men’s basketball team at 38 percent, reflecting a national trend of significantly lower graduation rates for baseball and basketball players. Not a single member of the men’s basketball freshman class of 1995-96 earned a degree from GW.

Kvancz said the rate for men’s basketball was lowered significantly by several international players who left school toward the end of their senior years to play professionally overseas.

“We have a real problem in some of the kids that we’ve recruited in the past in terms of them being serious about graduating,” he said. “But the overseas pro leagues killed us because they start in the spring.”

While seventh-year GW baseball head coach Tom Walter said he was not coach during the whole time the figures were taken, the team’s graduation rate is often lowered by students who leave early to play in the minor leagues. Most recently, would-be-senior Jake Wald left school early after being drafted by the San Francisco Giants last spring.

“I think that’s a skewed statistic because one bad class affects the
whole scale,” Walter said. “But kids getting drafted is a problem in baseball that doesn’t exist in most other sports.”

Women’s basketball head coach Joe McKeown was also critical of the NCAA’s criteria for calculating the rates, attributing his team’s four-class average rate of 67 percent to players that transferred.

“Every player that has come through our program and played here has graduated, so if you ask me, it’s 100 percent,” he said. “So what you’re dealing with is very deceiving. How they come up with that rate – you have to major in physics to figure it out.”

The 81 percent four-class graduation rate for GW females is significantly higher than the rate for male athletes, which was brought down to 53 percent in part because of the baseball and men’s basketball teams.

The NCAA also calculates graduation statistics for Division II and III schools and requires schools to provide all prospective student-athletes with a copy of the figures.

Looking ahead

GW has an academic support program for athletes that is comprised of five full-time staff members and 30 to 40 tutors, which Kvancz estimated costs the University between $150,000 to $200,000 a year. The program, headed by academic coordinator Karen Ercole, requires all freshmen and any athlete with a GPA below 2.5 to attend study halls. Other services provided include help with registration, group tutoring and individual tutoring when necessary.

“We jump on them pretty early, but the kid has to tell us when they’re having problems, too,” Kvancz said. “We can make them go to class, but we can’t make them learn, and that’s why we have study halls.”

Senior rower Molly Hueller said GW’s academic support for athletes is excellent and that coaches urge athletes to take advantage of the program.

“They usually catch us before midterms, so if we’re slipping, they catch us early,” she said. “Our coach also puts a lot of pressure on us to stay on top of things, because otherwise we get into a situation where before finals everyone is asking for a lot of time off from practices to study.”

Kvancz said he is not tremendously disappointed by the graduation rate, but that there is definitely room for improvement.

“The improvement is getting better kids, kids that are more easily acclimated to college life,” he said. “And I think we can do a little bit better job with kids that we know are going to have some problems.”

He said he would like the student-athlete graduation rate to equal the general student body numbers.

“I think we should be at 72 (percent), if not better,” Kvancz said.

He said he does not expect the nationwide trend of students leaving early for the pros to change.

“Personally, I think it’s a problem,” he said. “But it’s hard to tell a kid who’s dreamed all his life of being in the majors, and here’s his shot to play in the minors, his entrance into the big leagues, it’s hard to tell him that he needs to stay and graduate.”

Coach Walter said he lets his players make their own decisions about whether to enter the minor leagues before graduating.

“What I tell them is ‘look, if you have a chance of playing in the majors, then yes, you’ve gotten as much out of a college experience as you can get,'” he said. “If you’re not going to make it, then stay or at least make sure you come back and finish up.”

Kvancz said he is less concerned about men’s basketball players leaving school early in situations in which they have a clear chance at professional success. While some former Colonials have had success in professional leagues, SirValient Brown left GW to enter the NBA draft in 2001 and has yet to find a permanent home with any professional or semi-professional team.

“When a guy has a contract for $500,000 at the age of 20 or 21, I’m pretty hard pressed to say, ‘listen you should graduate,'” he said. “I tell them, ‘have a ball, you’re close enough where you can come back and get your degree.'”

For the full NCAA report on GW’s student-athlete graduation rate, see www.ncaa.org/grad_rates.

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