NCAA data on graduation success rates released Wednesday shows a marked improvement for University of Minnesota student-athletesâÄô graduation rates in 2009. University athletes scored a 76 percent Graduation Success Rate, an increase of 4 percent from 2008. However, the University is still below the national average, 79 percent. The University was one of three Big Ten schools to score above 70 percent on the FGR. Northwestern University posted an 88 percent FGR while Penn State University claimed second with 82 percent. The FGR, which is used by the U.S. Department of Education, counts transfer students as non-graduates from the university in which they first enrolled. The Gophers raised their mark even higher on the Federal Graduation Rate. University athletes trumped last year’s 60 percent FGR with an 11 percent jump, to score a lofty 71 percent. âÄúThe latest graduation rate figures released by the NCAA and the academic strides made by our student-athletes represent a significant achievement,âÄù Athletics Director Joel Maturi said in a statement. âÄúWe place a high priority on academic success and degree completion and it’s great to see positive results from that commitment.âÄù Both the NCAA and federal numbers tracked student-athletes who entered the University between 1999 and 2002, giving athletes six years to graduate. âÄúUnder the Maturi era we’ve seen a different emphasis on academics across the board,âÄù said Garry Bowman, a spokesman for the University’s athletics department. Bowman also credits the McNamara Academic Center which holds tutoring and study sessions with student-athletes, while âÄúfostering academic success.âÄù The most impressive numbers were posted by the softball, women’s tennis, volleyball, and women’s golf teams who all had 100 percent graduation rates by NCAA standards. However, not all sports achieved such high rates. The men’s golf, menâÄôs hockey, and football teams scored between 50 percent and 54 percent, and the men’s basketball team scored a meager 44 percent on the NCAA’s scale. While these numbers are not as high as the University would like them to be âÄúthe numbers are certainly trending in the right direction,âÄù Bowman said. Bowman said 17 senior football players have already graduated or are on track to graduate this year as a sign of improvement. âÄúWe want [student-athletes] to walk out with a championship ring and a diploma,âÄù said Bowman.