Athlete graduation rate high

An NCAA report looking at the academic progress of Division I college athletes shows Marquette is far ahead of the pack at retaining and graduating its athletes.

Most of Marquette's teams had perfect scores, according to the Academic Progress Rate report, which used data from the 2003-'04 school year as its basis. Overall, the athletic programs had a score of 987 out of 1,000 — 39 points ahead of the national average.

The score was calculated by giving points to each student-athlete who remains eligible to play and stays at the university, then dividing those points by the total points possible and multiplying that number by 1,000. A score of 925 corresponds to a 50 percent graduation rate. Marquette's score is higher than all other teams in Conference USA, all teams in the Big Ten, and all teams in the Horizon League, according to the March 2 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But an overall number can be misleading, according to Len Elmore, a member of the watchdog group Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athetics and a college basketball analyst for ESPN and CBS.

Elmore said penalties against teams for academic failures are taken sport-by-sport, not for the institution as a whole. So team, not institution, numbers are more important to the NCAA.

Even then, the scores only track one year of data, Elmore said, so they may not give an entirely accurate picture of a school. However, the next year's report will take two years of data and improve accuracy. Eventually, the reports will cover four years of data.

An overall picture can also be misleading because colleges may have different numbers of sports, according to Elmore. For example, Marquette does not have football or baseball, both sports which had the lowest scores, according to the report.

"But it's a better snapshot than six-year graduation rates," which only look at the end result and don't track athletes as they move through college, Elmore said.

For Marquette, sports such as women's volleyball and all track and cross country teams had perfect scores. The low point was men's basketball, which recorded a score of 920, five points under the NCAA's required rate. However, the NCAA noted in its report that the men's basketball team's score was lower due to special circumstances, in this case, three transfers out of the program.

"If a student is poor academically and transfers, then there would be a penalty," said Tom Ford, associate athletics director who coordinates academic services for Marquette's 204 athletes.

The NCAA did not believe that was the case for all the transfers at Marquette, so the team will not face sanctions, which involve both a reduction in the number of scholarships a school can give out and a reduction in financial aid for those on scholarship.

Coaches believe Marquette is, in general, a good institution for making sure its athletes are learning.

"We're a smaller school," said Pati Rolf, head coach of the women's volleyball team, which recorded a score of 1,000. Because of Marquette's smaller size, students were easier to keep in contact with, she said.

Athletic programs also try to keep their students from missing too many classes, Rolf said. And special programs are offered for freshmen to help them make the transition into college life.

"The freshmen learn quickly that they can't goof around," Rolf said.

Steve Adlard, head coach of the men's soccer team, which also recorded a perfect score, credited the school's good scores to Ford.

"We owe it all to him," Adlard said. "He has the ability to place everybody with the right schedules and right teachers."

Marquette's status as a private school also helps its scores. Overall, private institutions were 27 points ahead of public institutions in retaining and graduating its students, according to the survey.

"Private institutions have a pool of applicants with higher qualifications," Elmore said. "State institutions have to take more risks" with a greater number of applicants, some who are considered "at-risk."

Overall, Elmore said the results of the report were "about what I thought (they) would be." He said the program would be useful in helping schools identify where their problem sports are.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Mar. 10 2005.