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Rice maintains top rankings for athlete graduation rates

By Ellen Liu     11/15/11 6:00pm

Rice has achieved top marks once again, ranking sixth and fourth out of 120 Division I-A schools in Graduation Success Rates (GSR) and Federal Graduation Rates (FGR) for student-athletes, respectively, according to a report released by the NCAA a few weeks ago.

Rice athletes topped those of schools like Stanford and Vanderbilt University by maintaining a GSR of 95 percent and raising its FGR two points to 85 percent. Furthermore, Rice's general student body ranked sixth in Division I-A with a FGR of 92 percent.

Associate Director of Academic Advising for Athletes Julie Griswold described the distinction between the two measures. Both the GSR and FGR are measures of the proportion of student-athletes in a six-year academic program who graduated successfully in or before 2010. The most recent rates are calculated using a four-year average of the most recent matriculation classes, 2001 through 2004.

However, the NCAA puts together the GSR, while the FGR is calculated by the federal government. Furthermore, Griswold said the GSR is a more specific measure because it includes students who enrolled mid-year or transferred in on athletic scholarships and those who transferred to other schools in good academic standing, while the FGR does not.

Griswold said she attributes the continued positive performance of Rice student-athletes to hard work and the university's competitive academic environment.

"It will be 10 at night, and an athlete will still be studying because a roommate, teammate or classmate is studying," Griswold noted. "Students at Rice in general are high-achieving and want to be successful at every level."

The GSRs and FGRs of the university's individual sports teams changed at different rates. For example, the football team maintained a GSR of 93 percent and FGR of 84 percent. Football Head Coach David Bailiff said the main challenge his players faces is the time pressure the sport puts on their studies.

"Tremendous time management skills are needed, especially at Rice, where some athletes want to go to medical and law school," Bailiff said. "They can't celebrate a 2.5 GPA and strive to get high grades because they have high goals after football."

Bailiff added that many of the incoming freshmen were unaccustomed to the time constraint because they had been used to excelling in high school without studying as hard.

"They have to mature and learn what it takes to succeed academically," Bailiff said. "No one will give it to them."

The men's basketball team experienced growth in both of its graduation rates: its GSR increased to 92 percent from 83 percent, and its FGR rose to 83 percent from 71 percent. Men's Basketball Head Coach Ben Braun said the turnaround in these figures represents the hard work he and his staff have put into improving athlete academics since their arrival at Rice three years ago.

"When I first got to Rice, the team GPA was really low and embarrassing, but since then, my staff and I have raised it to a 3.0 and won the Conference-USA team award for the highest GPA in the league three years in a row," Braun said. "Furthermore, this year, all of our players who have stayed at Rice through their senior year will graduate."

Braun said he and his staff have worked hard to make sure players have their studies under control. For example, they have instituted a support program that matches each player with a staff mentor to monitor his academic progress. In addition, all players are required to attend weekly advising sessions and tutorials. Braun added that he rearranged the team's road-game schedule and travel plans to make sure the players miss as few classes as possible.

Women's soccer maintained strong graduation rates, with a 100 percent GSR and 96 percent FGR. Midfielder Julia Barrow said she found handling both athletics and academics challenging but doable.

"My worst semester at Rice was my first one, and my best one was my last," Barrow, a Baker College junior, said. "It's a shock at first to try to balance a sport and being on the road with classes and a social life, but I have definitely learned how to manage these things better with time."

Barrow added that she disagreed with the stereotype that student-athletes attend Rice just to play a sport.

"I've had one professor tell me that he was surprised that I was an athlete because I worked so hard in his class," Barrow said. "Although I appreciated his words in a way, I also think it's sad that it would be surprising for a student-athlete to work hard when I believe that the majority of student-athletes are completely dedicated to academics along with their sport."

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