Athlete grad rate at U low

The University graduated 58 percent of student-athletes from 2000-03.

Than Tibbetts

A new report by the NCAA shows that University student-athletes have the lowest graduation rates in the Big Ten conference.

According to the report, the University graduated 58 percent of its student-athletes from 2000-03. First-year students who graduated in six years or fewer were counted toward the graduation rate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association study.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi cautioned that the data does not necessarily reflect the current body of student-athletes at the University.

“You have to understand that the last data that we have is ’97-’98,” he said. “A lot has changed in that period of time.”

Maturi said the most important factor to look at is the relationship between the graduation rates of student-athletes and the general student body. The University also ranks last in the Big Ten by graduating 52 percent of the overall student population.

“We’ve got a problem at the ‘U,’ not just at the athletic department,” he said. “We are doing all we can to identify why our student-athletes aren’t graduating.”

Board of Regents Chairman Dave Metzen said he was optimistic about the future but no one is happy about the graduation rates.

“I think you’ll see a dramatic turnaround in the next few years,” he said. “I think we’ll get out of the cellar next year and move up the ladder.”

The University also ranks low in graduating black student-athletes.

A study at the University of Central Florida used the NCAA data and showed the University of Minnesota ranked 52nd out of 55 bowl-game-bound schools. The Naval Academy does not report graduation rates.

In football, the University of Minnesota graduated 27 percent of black student-athletes compared with 60 percent of white student-athletes, according to the University of Central Florida study. Football student-athletes graduated at a lower rate – 41 percent – than the overall student-athlete body.

University of Minnesota football coach Glen Mason said he has not studied the report.

“I have always thought that statistics can be misleading,” he said. “The problem is the kid that leaves school early to play professional football, which happens sometimes.”

Maturi said a student-athlete leaving school early to turn professional hurts the University of Minnesota’s graduation rate, but this also happens at other schools.

The University of Minnesota provides “an awful lot of support” to student-athletes, he said.

Student-athletes also have academic benefits – tutors, learning specialists and counselors – whom the regular student does not have, Maturi said.

He said he thinks the University of Minnesota’s coaching staff and academic counselors do an excellent job of trying to monitor student-athletes’ class attendance.

“We, as an administration, have to make sure that we recruit appropriate students to the University of Minnesota and provide them with appropriate support to allow them to be successful and to graduate,” he said.

– Dan Miller, Kari Petrie and The Associated Press contributed to this report.