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Division I Rates on Graduation Improve Slightly

Latest NCAA figures show a 2% increase overall; Notre Dame tops all schools, but UCLA and USC each drop a little from the previous study.

September 03, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

As the NCAA ponders radical new legislation that probably would affect its already controversial graduation-rate studies, it announced Tuesday that overall rates at Division I schools rose by a modest 2%, to 62%.

The latest federally mandated study tracks student-athletes who began school in 1996-97, giving them a six-year window to graduate. Notre Dame led all Division I schools with a 92% graduation rate.

UCLA and USC, the only local schools still playing Division I-A football, each dipped slightly from the previous study. UCLA's overall rate fell from 73% to 64% and USC dropped from 62% to 56%. The graduation rate for each school's football team also fell, with UCLA dropping from 75% to 61% and USC slipping from 47% to 45%.

Both schools attributed the declines to the customary ebb and flow of the raw statistics from year to year.

"We want a longer perspective, rather than a snapshot," said Betsy Stephenson, associate athletic director at UCLA. "There are a lot of variables and it's actually tough to put [one year's figures] into context.... People in college sports have always struggled with the way the rates are determined or what trends it shows."

At USC, Associate Athletic Director Daryl Gross agreed, saying, "It's tough to look at just one year. You see a 45% grad rate for football and you might say USC is or is not doing its job."

For instance, Gross pointed out that of the 20 incoming freshman football players at USC in 1996-97, nine graduated by 2002, four chose to play in the NFL, three left school and two transferred to other schools. Gross would rather see the NCAA not count the transfers or the professional athletes against USC's graduation rate.

The NCAA does plan to eliminate transfers from graduation rates in future studies. And it will vote in April on a controversial proposal that would reward schools with consistently high or unexpectedly high graduation rates while punishing those that consistently lag behind.

The so-called "Incentive-Disincentive" program could, for instance, result in higher or lower basketball tournament payouts to schools that consistently did well or poorly in graduation rates. In the case of football, a school might be banned from bowl play if it failed to keep pace.

The program would not be limited, however, to big-revenue sports such as football and basketball.

"We need accountability," said Myles Brand, NCAA president, during a conference call Tuesday. "We will look at disincentives when a school's athletes are not graduating at an acceptable rate. There could be financial consequences. We're less clear about the incentives. I'm a strong advocate of the program."

UCLA's Stephenson is a member of the NCAA's task force studying the program and declined to comment further.

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Graduation Rates

Graduation rates for local Division I schools' athletes and students (students entering college in 1996-97):

*--* School Ath All UC Riverside 77% 66% Loyola Marymount 73% 70% UC Santa Barbara 71% 71% UCLA 64% 85% USC 56% 76% UC Irvine 50% 76% Cal State Fullerton 43% 47% Pepperdine 42% 75% Long Beach State 39% 40% CSUN 23% 30%

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Note: UC Riverside did not become a Division I school until September 2001

Source: NCAA

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