UA student-athlete graduation rate among lowest in nation

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The student athletes recruited by the University of Arizona in 2001 in the men's basketball and football program experienced among the very worst graduation rates in the nation.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association released its latest report on graduation rates today. While overall national rates have inched up in the past few years, the UA's men's basketball numbers fell and the UA football rate was the worst of any Bowl Championship Series school.

UA athletic director Jim Livengood told Fox 11 News today, "I'm embarrased...at anything we don't do well". He added, "I don't like where that standing is, but at the same time, I'm excited about where we're going, and where we're going is good. It's hard to make great progress and to show great progress year-after-year. Are we going to get there? Absolutely."

Nationally, NCAA president Myles Brand sees the progress. College athletes are earning degrees at record rates, according to a NCAA report released Tuesday, and at higher percentages than the overall student body.

Brand, who has made academic reform his top priority, was encouraged by new NCAA figures that show 79 percent of all student-athletes who entered school in the fall of 2001 have graduated and 78 percent of those who entered college between 1998 and 2001 earned degrees within six years. Both are one-point increases over last year's report and all-time highs. Still, he acknowledges challenges remain as those who played men's basketball, football and baseball continue to lag behind student-athletes in other sports.

From 1998-2001 men's basketball players graduated at 62 percent, while baseball produced a rate of 68 percent. Football Bowl Subdivision teams had a grad rate of 67 percent, and the Football Championship Subdivision came in at 65 percent. Women's bowling, at 68 percent, was the only other sport to finish below 70 percent.

"We are continuing to make progress toward the goal I established of an 80 percent graduation success rate," Brand said. "While there is still room for growth in some sports, we have seen improvements."

But the University of Arizona remains mired far below national averages. According to the NCAA report, the GSR (graduation success rate) for incoming UA student athletes between 1998 and 2001 for men's basketball was only 20%. That's down five percentage points from last year's report. For football, it was 41%, no change from last year. Only four BSC schools came in at under 50%, with Arizona at the bottom.

The GSR at the UA for female athletes was better. Former softball player and Fox 11 intern Taryne Mowatt says that since the University took over the responsibility of student-athlete coursework, study habits have improved. "Now you sign in, you meet with people, they go over your work and make sure it's done properly," she says.

Other UA men's sports GSR: baseball, 40%; cross country/track, 81%; golf, 30%; swimming, 76%; and tennis, 57%.

Livengood told Fox 11 Reporter Delane Cleveland today, "I'm not excited about where we are because I don't like where we are. I don't like where that standing is, but at the same time, I am excited about where we're going and where we're going is good".

Again, nationally, white men's basketball players who enrolled in 2001 graduated at 80 percent, a one-point drop from last year's report. Black men's basketball players, however, continued to improve, with 58 percent graduating, a two-point increase from last year and up 12 points over the seven years the NCAA has tracked the numbers.

To some, these are encouraging trends. "I'm confident enough to say that we still need to work on decreasing the gap between white athletes and African-American athletes overall," said Richard Lapchick, who leads the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. "But this is really good news for college sports."

This is the fourth year the NCAA has released its own data. Schools are required to send their graduation information to the NCAA each year, and the research staff compiles the numbers.

Six schools graduated 100 percent of their student-athletes for the one-year class of 2001-02, according to the report. They were Alcorn State, Campbell, Canisius, Colgate, Manhattan and

Valparaiso. More than 100 basketball programs and one football program - Alcorn State - graduated 100 percent of their athletes who enrolled from 1998-2001. Connecticut, Stanford and Tennessee were three of 77 women's programs, but only 27 men's programs matched that perfect mark, including Florida State, Marquette, Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Western Kentucky.

The worst scores among the three major sports were produced by Jackson State and two schools in California. Jackson State had a zero; Fresno State graduated 7 percent and Cal State-Northridge was at 8 percent, all in men's basketball. In comparison, the lowest scoring program in football was Savannah State in Georgia (30 percent). North Carolina A&T and Florida International shared that distinction in women's basketball with 38 percent.

Other notable findings were:

and football teams at Grambling and Southern.