By Sean Boyce
Capital News Service
As the college basketball season gets underway, VCU fans are looking forward to the Rams putting up big numbers against opponents in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
But off the court, VCU’s student-athletes are far behind on an important statistic – the “graduation success rate” as calculated by the NCAA. This number reflects the percentage of student-athletes who earn a degree within six years of entering college. The most recent NCAA report tracks student-athletes who entered college in 2010 and whether they graduated by 2016.
Overall, VCU’s student-athletes had a GSR of 79 percent. That was the lowest among the 14 schools in the A-10. Davidson College led the conference with an overall GSR of 98 percent. Eight other schools had GSRs of 90 percent or higher, and the four remaining members of the A10 were in the 80s.
In terms of individual sports, of the 14 A-10 members, VCU ranked:
§ Ninth for men’s basketball, tied with St. Louis University, with a GSR of 77 percent.
§ Last for men’s track, with a GSR of 46 percent. The next-lowest school was the University of Massachusetts, whose male track athletes had a GSR of 75 percent. Five schools were at 95 percent and above.
§ Last for men’s soccer, with a GSR of 63 percent. The next-lowest school was George Washington University, at 75 percent. Six schools were at 90 percent or above.
§ 13th for women’s basketball (with a GSR of 86 percent) and for women’s track (85 percent).
§ 12th for women’s soccer, tied with Massachusetts, with a GSR of 84 percent.
§ VCU officials say there are reasons for such disparities. One is that VCU doesn’t offer as many NCAA scholarship sports as its A-10 rivals. Because there are fewer student-athletes at VCU, the overall GSR can be skewed by a relatively small number of academically struggling student-athletes.
VCU doesn’t just trail its conference opponents on the GSRs; the university falls short of most other colleges and universities in Virginia.
Of the state’s 14 Division I schools, VCU had the third-lowest overall GSR. The College of William and Mary was No. 1, at 93 percent; then came the University of Richmond, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia at 90 percent. VCU was 1 percentage point below Old Dominion University’s GSR of 80 percent.
Two Virginia schools had overall GSRs lower than VCU’s: Hampton University, at 73 percent; and Norfolk State University, at 63 percent.
While VCU’s student-athletes might lag compared with their peers, they actually graduate at rates higher than VCU’s regular student body, the NCAA reported. That observation is based on the federal graduation rate as computed by the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the federal graduation rate, of the freshmen who entered VCU in fall 2010, 62 percent graduated within six years. The federal graduation rate for student-athletes who entered VCU in fall 2010 was 65 percent.
(The methodology for calculating the federal graduation rate penalizes schools if a student transfers to another institution, as many student-athletes do. So the NCAA developed the graduation success rate as an alternative methodology. Under the GSR, schools aren’t penalized if a student-athlete who is in good academic standing transfers to another college or university. That is why the NCAA’s GSR is higher than the federal graduation rate.)
At VCU, student-athletes have higher graduation rates than other students because of the support services that the university provides, according to Noah Strebler, assistant athletic director for compliance and student services.
“Student-athletes have a smaller adviser-to-student ratio, which allows a student more individual attention than a traditional student receives,” Strebler said.
VCU Athletics can point to a number of academic success stories involving student-athletes such as Joey Rodriguez and Mo Alie-Cox. Rodriguez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and corrections and is currently the director of player development at his alma mater, VCU. Alie-Cox graduated a year early with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, earned his master’s degree in criminal justice and is currently a tight end in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts.
“Getting my master’s is about preparing myself for life after basketball. No matter how much I love the game, I know my career as an athlete has an expiration date. Having two degrees is about having the opportunity to move forward,” Alie-Cox said in an interview for a story on the website of VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
In some sports, VCU has high graduation success rates – including 100 percent in men’s tennis and 95 percent in field hockey.
Moreover, the university’s overall GSR is headed in the right direction: In 2001, it was just 71 percent. VCU’s current rate of 79 percent is the school’s highest since the NCAA started keeping track of that metric in 1998.
As with the general student body, there’s a gender difference: Female student-athletes have a much higher GSR (86 percent) than male student-athletes (70 percent).
But if VCU hopes to compete in the GSRs as it does on the basketball court, the university definitely will have to up its game: On Dec. 9, the Rams will play Seton Hall, which has an overall GSR of 92 percent and a 90 percent GSR for its male basketball players.