Earning their marks

Andrew Harner and Andrew Harner

BGSU student-athletes are graduating at a higher rate than in the past, according to the most recent NCAA graduation rate data.

The data records two graduation rates: the federal rate and the NCAA’s graduation success rate.

The report allows a six-year period for student-athletes to graduate, meaning that the most recent data is for the 2002 freshman cohort, and that cohort had a federal graduation rate of 73 percent, which is 9 percent higher than the Division I average.

The federal rate only accounts for freshmen who enrolled at the beginning of the 2002-03 school year and penalizes institutions for athletes who transfer or move to the professional ranks.

BGSU’s Graduation Success Rate (GSR) is 86 percent, which is 7 percent higher than the Division I average and second among Mid-American Conference institutions.

Created eight years ago by the NCAA, the GSR includes transfer students and athletes who enrolled during the 2002-03 academic year in the data and accounts for 37 percent more athletes than the federal rate.

Mark Shook, BGSU’s interim Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance/Student-Athlete Services, said the University is pleased with its high standing, even though there was a 2 percent drop from last year’s GSR.

‘This year we’re still proud, at 86 percent, to really be in the top tier of the conference,’ Shook said. ‘Our student-athletes are excelling in the classroom and graduating at well above the national rate of 79 percent.’

The reports exclude students who leave an institution for the military, foreign services or a church mission and those who die or become permanently disabled.

Eight of BG’s athletic teams – including both the men’s and women’s basketball teams – earned a perfect GSR rating.

‘We feel the academic success of our student-athletes is one of our shining stars or bragging points,’ Shook said.

The biggest team on campus – the football team – had a team GSR of 73 percent.

First-year football coach Dave Clawson said winning championships is high on the list of goals every year, but the overarching benchmark is for every player to leave the University with a degree.

‘The No. 1 goal in our program is that every player we bring here graduates,’ Clawson said. ‘We class check our guys. If a guy misses a class, they have Saturday night study hall. We don’t let them go out.’

And the athletic department has other checks in place for all student-athletes, but they keep an especially close eye on freshman because the first year is generally the most difficult for all students.

‘It all starts with the coaches and who they recruit,’ Shook said. ‘Our coaches know they want to recruit the best students they can, and then it becomes, ‘Once they get here, how do we help them?”

They do that through the Office of Student Athlete Services, which works with all athletes, and each freshman student-athlete has a weekly academic mentor meeting. Athletes are also strongly encouraged to use all the academic assistance programs that are offered to all students, such as the writing center.

And those services have paid off, as the athletic department has reached its goal of having a cumulative grade point average of better than 3.0 among all athletes.

‘Our student-athlete GPA finally has eclipsed the 3.0 barrier,’ Shook said. ‘It’s a 3.03 right now. But we consistently strive to make that number higher.’

Clawson came to the Falcons a year ago to coach the team to championships, but he was also brought in to bring a new voice and direction to the program. And not to say Gregg Brandon didn’t care about academics, but Clawson has said how important academics are more than once in his tenure at the University.

‘The way that you build a championship program, which is what we want to do here, is you don’t recruit players and plan that if they stay they stay and if they leave they leave,’ Clawson said. ‘When we recruit a young man here as an 18-year-old, if we are doing anything right in our program, he should be a much better player as a 22-year-old senior than as an 18-year-old freshman.

‘And the only way we get to see how good that 22-year-old is, is if they are going to class, progressing academically and getting a good GPA.’

Men’s basketball coach Louis Orr said the long schedule that a basketball team has makes the adjustment to college harder for freshmen.

‘Basketball and hockey stretches across two semesters,’ Orr said. ‘It’s a tough thing to do, and the guys have to put in a lot of time to balance it.’

However, since this season’s team has a large amount of upperclassmen and underclassmen, he has plenty of players to make that transition easier, and combined with the higher incentives of coming to college in the first place, players have a lot of reasons to find the right balance.

‘The reality of it is that they’re held accountable,’ Orr said. ‘Their incentives should be to get their education and to graduate. You learn that balance through experience.”