CSUN placed last among Southern California Division I schools in a January NCAA report ranking the graduation rates of student athletes around the nation.
On the national level, 76 percent of Division I student athletes graduated within six years after entering college as freshmen from 1995 to 1998. CSUN graduated only 53 percent of its student athletes during that time, compared to UCLA (70 percent) and USC (67 percent).
The numbers have been lower in the past because they were compiled under the so-called federal rate, which showed 62 percent graduation rate on the national level. The new report used statistics compiled under the new graduation success rate
Janet Lucas, CSUN athletic director, said the national graduation rate average for men’s baseball is 47 percent and 44 percent for men’s basketball. The reason the two sports have low numbers is because players leave early for the professional drafts, she said.
Lucas said the university is currently evaluating what they can do to improve its numbers.
The federal rate did not take into consideration student athletes who transferred in to CSUN and graduated from the university, nor did it count students athletes transferring out and graduating somewhere else or leaving early to pursue a professional career.
“I’m not sure that those reports are accurate,” said Stephen Rousey, head coach of CSUN’s baseball team. “I know with baseball players sometimes they’ll sign a pro contract after their junior or senior year and then come back, and finish their school later on and the institution is not credited with a student athlete graduating.”
The new GSR is set up to include incoming transfer students to an institution’s graduation rate, but athletes turning professional who are in good academic standing or transfer out with remaining eligibility will not count against the institution. Athletes leaving in poor academic standing will, however, have a negative effect on the school’s GSR.
The reason the NCAA switched to the GSR was because the federal rate was limited in accuracy, said John Chandler, CSUN spokesperson. The federal rate only counted students who started out as freshman at the university, he said.
“The GSR is a more accurate reflection of what students are doing,” Chandler said.
The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an organization that monitors and reports on the academic and financial integrity of athletic programs, proposed that teams failing to graduate at least 50 percent of their student athletes should be banned from post-season play. Teams would not be penalized until another report measuring students’ performances by each semester, the academic progress rate, or APR, is released in the next four weeks.
“I don’t disagree with that, but they have to understand the criteria for each sport,” Rousey said. “In baseball, if your team is good enough to make the postseason, you’ve got seven or eight, maybe even 10 juniors on that club that are going to get drafted and probably signed.”
Rousey left CSU Fullerton early without a degree to play professional baseball and went back to school after his playing career was over. He now has a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s in physical education and is two-thirds through with a masters in English.
“I’m a guy who played ball at Cal State Fullerton and didn’t graduate as far as statistics are concerned,” Rousey said.
The intent of a rule stopping schools with low graduation rates from playing beyond the regular season is good, Rousey said.
He said he does not believe, however, that it will always work in every scenario.
Craig Baker, junior recreation management major and a pitcher for the baseball team, said he did not think penalizing teams by excluding them from the playoffs is necessary.
“If you’re a student athlete and you can go do something at a higher level with that sport then why not do it?” Baker said. “Not everybody can do that so you need to take that opportunity.”
Baker, who is draft eligible this year, said he would consider leaving school early for professional baseball if given the opportunity because it has been a dream of his since he was a child.
“What people have to understand is that for these guys, regardless of what their drive to succeed academically is, they’ve grown up dreaming of playing professional baseball and when they get that opportunity it’s hard to turn down,” Rousey said.
For basketball, the 50 percent graduation rate requirement for post-season play could pose a big problem. A study conducted last year by the University of Central Florida said 43 of the 65 teams in the men’s NCAA tournament graduated less than 50 percent of their players. Both the two No. 1 seeds from 2005, Illinois (47 percent) and Washington (45 percent), would have missed the tournament if 50 percent rule had been in effect.
Chandler said that because the graduation rates are spread out over many years, any changes made would only be noticed among the students at first. As for the GSR rates it takes time.
“It takes time for changes made at the campus to be seen in those stats,” Chandler said.
There was also a discrepancy between the numbers of black male basketball players graduating from college versus the number of white male players graduating.
Twenty-eight percent of the 65 teams in the NCAA tournament graduated 70 percent or more of their white basketball student athletes, while only 16 percent graduated 70 percent or more of their black basketball student athletes.
For women, the numbers were more favorable. Out of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament, only eight schools had below 50 percent graduation rate.
The higher graduation rate for women did not come as a surprise for Jan Moshier, senior business administration major and catcher/outfielder for the CSUN softball team.
“I can see (the rule) affecting guys more than girls because girls in general take their school a little more seriously,” Moshier said. “We need an education because after our eligibility is up it’s pretty much going into the real world. There’s very slim to none chances for us to go pro.”
Barbara Jordan, head coach of the softball team, echoed what her player said regarding women putting more emphasis on their schoolwork.
“I think school is something women like to excel in for the most part, whereas sometimes men are really into whatever sport (they play), that’s their thing, and then they want to make sure that they get their grades,” Jordan said.
Heather Martin, a senior psychology major who is entering her last season as a member of the softball team, said she does not see any difficulties graduating on time as a student athlete and would not sacrifice finishing up her degree right away for a lucrative professional contract if it was available.
“Money is money,” Martin said. “It comes and goes like no other, and if I’m a junior and stay an extra year, I’ll have (my degree) for the rest of my life.
The biggest hit on schools’ graduation rates is athletes leaving early to play professional sports. If the athletes decide to come back later on in life to finish up their degree, the damage has already been done to the university’s graduation rate.
“Bottom line is student athletes at this school … end up graduating,” Rousey said. “Whether or not those particular statistics credit the university and the department with having those people graduate is a whole other thing because they have their own set of criteria.”