Local Division I athletic programs exceeded proposed minimum standards -- though USC, UCLA and several others fell below the national average -- in graduation data released Thursday by the NCAA.
According to the NCAA's new graduation success rate, or GSR, 76% of Division I athletes who entered school as freshmen from 1995 to 1998 graduated within six years.
Loyola Marymount graduated 81% of its scholarship athletes in this tabulation, the top ranking in Southern California. UCLA graduated 70%, and USC's rate was 67%. Cal State Northridge had the lowest local rate, 53%. Individual team scores were released last month.
Most of these rates are significantly higher than those compiled under the so-called federal rate, which showed that 62% of Division I athletes -- and 60% of all enrolled students -- earned a degree within six years. The federal rate did not take into account an estimated 25,000 athletes who transferred to other schools or left early to turn professional.
The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has recommended that teams failing to graduate at least 50% of their players should be banned from postseason competition. Teams will not incur penalties until another standard, the academic progress rate, or APR, which measures performance semester by semester, is released in about six weeks. Petrina Long, a senior associate director of athletics at UCLA, said her school's figures reflect a unique set of circumstances. UCLA accepts a relatively small number of transfer students, enhancing its GSR only slightly, and has a large number of elite athletes who leave school to pursue athletic opportunities before completing the quarter in which they are attending, technically leaving them in bad academic standing and counting against the GSR.
"We feel that we're in a very small group of schools that have this number of elite athletes," Long said. "We're the exception and not the norm."
Loyola Marymount Athletic Director William Husack credited his school's score to its commitment to recruiting "outstanding students" and ensuring their academic success once they reached campus.
"It doesn't surprise me that we're at the head of the list," he said. "If you go back and look at the academic performance rate that we had last year, we were tied for fifth in the country."
David Ridpath, executive director of the Drake Group, an academic watchdog organization, called the new figures essentially meaningless.
"I'm not sure what they tell us because we don't know what's going on behind the scenes, what courses [athletes] are taking or whether they are in a watered-down jock curriculum," he said.
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The NCAA on Thursday released a measurement of Division I athletes' graduation rates. It examined scholarship athletes who entered college from 1995 to 1998, allowing six years to graduate. The study employs methodology more favorable to institutions than the so-called federal rate, taking into account, for example, athletes who left school without graduating but earned a degree elsewhere within the six-year window. Here is a look at the graduation success rate, or GSR, at local Division I institutions:
UC Santa Barbara...78%
Long Beach State...64%
Cal State Fullerton...59%
Cal State Northridge...53%
National Div. I avg...76%