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Academic Athletes: High Scorers


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2008 8:00 AM

At the height of this year's March Madness frenzy, the Los Angeles Times put a damper on the fun with an article that lamented the dismal graduation rates of today's top collegiate basketball players. If it were an academic Final Four, the article said, UCLA would not have made the cut with its 29-percent graduation rate. Neither would Kansas (40 percent) or Memphis (30 percent). Only the University of North Carolina, with 60 percent, would have made the grade.

But those rates don't tell the true story. The Times article cited Federal Graduation Rates (FGR), which some feel paint an unfair picture because it does not account for transfer students.The NCAA's Graduation Success Rate (GSR), developed in 2005, does include these students; using GSR, the rate for UCLA's men's basketball team rises to 40 percent because the program doesn't get penalized for factors like players leaving school early to turn pro. But even that doesn't give the whole picture.

In 2004, the NCAA created the Academic Progress Rate (APR) to more accurately measure student-athletes' performance in the classroom. Based on data from a four-year period, the APR tracks the eligibility, retention and graduation of scholarship student-athletes and lists scores for each school's individual sports. Any school with a sport that dips below a 925 total (which translates to a 60-percent graduation rate) faces penalties that can include lost scholarships and postseason bans.

APR-wise, UCLA is in good shape. All 24 sports have an APR above the 925 cutoff, and 21 have APRs over 950. Eighteen rank in the top 50 percent of their respective sports.

"We had a really good year in 2006-'07," says Tom Lifka, associate vice chancellor for student academic services. "We had 542 athletes, and less than 10 [1.8 percent] were under a 2.0 GPA. To have so few below 2.0 is really remarkable."

Even more impressive, 207 student-athletes made the Director's Honor Roll for spring quarter, with 84 earning a 3.5 or higher, and 13 with 4.0.

"Sure, the cross country and swim teams from the Ivy League schools all have APRs of 1,000," says Don Morrison, UCLA's faculty rep to the NCAA. "But our people turn pro early, and the Ivy League athletes don't. So for the pond that we're playing in, we do exceptionally well."