Making the Grade
Overall, collegiate student-athletes have a higher graduation
rate than the rest of the student body
By JOHN BARTIMOLE
Often, that term has been the object
of disdain and derision, as media and
fans bemoan a perceived contradiction in the
title given to those who play intercollegiate
sports while pursuing a college education.
In reality, however, it turns out the Division
I student-athletes have a slightly higher overall
graduation rate than their non-playing counterparts — and the gap widens at the Division
II and Division m levels. The findings are a
result of a survey conducted by the NCAA
reflecting the graduation rates of freshmen entering the 1982-83 academic year for a five-
year period ending September 1, 1987.
Specifically, the median graduation rate
for all students at Division I colleges was
47.8 percent, while recruited student-athletes had a rate of 48 percent. In Division I,
the graduation rate for all students was 49.6
percent, while the student-athletes had a
slightly lower median of 45.5 percent. Division H student-athletes had a 45 percent
graduation rate, compared to 36.5 percent
for all students; and Division III boasted a
56 percent graduation median, compared to
50 percent for all students.
And the best, says Ursula R. Walsh,
NCAA director of research and data processing, is yet to come.
"These statistics do not yet reflect the impact of Proposition 48, which was adopted
in 1986, and the satisfactory progress rule,
which went into effect in 1985," she says.
"This, actually, is a worst-case scenario
and we expect these graduation rates for
athletes to improve as a result of those pieces of legislation."
Mary Jane Telford, the head coach of the
St. Bonaventure University women's basketball team, has a unique perspective on
what it takes for a student-athlete to successfully balance sports and academics. Before the Lady Bonnies jumped to Division I
in 1986, Telford spent 12 years in the university's admissions office, then resigned
her position as associate director of admissions to devote her full time to coaching,
which she had previously performed on a
"Many athletes take a bad rap because of
a few who grab the headlines with their off-
the-field misdeeds," she says. "Most athletes are serious students and are good college citizens. The perception that a
student-athlete can't be a good student is
Telford, whose Lady Bonnies boast a 100
percent graduation rate since the program's
inception, says the student-athlete has some
advantages the average student does not enjoy.
"There's the coach, who acts as an overseer, or the surrogate parent," she says.
"Regular students may enter college and be
on their own for the first time and think, T
can do this assignment later on,' because he
or she doesn't really know how to handle
all the free time.
"The student-athlete, on the other hand,
probably must participate in a preseason
conditioning program, attend study halls
and has a coach or someone who's making
sure he or she is going to classes and doing
Walsh adds that student-athletes have two
other edges that may not be enjoyed by all
"There's a tremendous motivation for
student-athletes to stay in college so they
can play sports," she says, "and then
there's the additional financial aid the stu
Telford agrees with Walsh's observation
that Proposition 48 will continue to enhance
the graduation rate of student-athletes.
"That's the first step in making our
young people realize they have to do the academic work if they want to compete and
stay in college," she says. Walsh adds that
the trend among colleges is to make sure
student-athletes have as positive a college
experience as possible — and that includes
For example, Howard Schnellenberger,
head football coach at the University of
Louisville, announced that players will have
to maintain a "C" average to remain on the
team. Additionally, the University of Kentucky received a grant to develop a unique
computer system that tracks the progress of
student-athletes in academics and athletics.
And in Florida, the Board of Regents
adopted a rule requiring the state's universities to monitor the class attendance of student-athletes, forbidding those who do not
attend from participating in athletics events.
The result of all this, says Telford, is that
"student-athletes are being held responsible
for their academic progress."
And that progress, as noted in the NCAA
study, is progressing nicely.^