ATHLETICS DEPARTMENT: Western post highest grad rate in 13 years

J. Michael Moore

More Western athletes are finishing what they started – at least in the classroom – according to a recent report released by the NCAA.

Western graduated 57 percent of its student athletes in the past six years, a rate two points above the national average. The statistics are based on athletes at Division I schools who began their college career in 1995-96 and graduated within six years.

It is Western’s highest rate since 1983-84, when 62 percent of Hilltopper athletes left with degrees.

“We feel that this kind of mirrors the athletic success that we’re having on the field and on the floor,” Athletics director Wood Selig said. “I think the two are very compatible. I think they definitely go hand-in-hand.”

The Topper baseball program led the way, posting a graduation rate of 80 percent, just ahead of women’s basketball with 75 percent.

“I wish I could take credit for it,” coach Joel Murrie said. “I am extremely proud. We go into homes, and we tell perspective players that in four years they will leave Western with a diploma in one hand and a professional contract in the other.”

Murrie mentioned former Hilltopper pitcher Ryan Bicondoa, who, in a matter of seven days in May, graduated, was named to All-Sun Belt and All-America teams and signed a contract with the New York Yankees.

But Murrie, a veteran college coach, stressed that the true level of his players’ academic ability is not reflected in the report.

The NCAA doesn’t take into account players who leave school early to start a professional career, even if their degree programs are nearly finished.

Selig said the NCAA is beginning to recognize that problem in the system. He prefers to look at the number of students who graduate after they have exhausted their athletic eligibility – those who do not transfer or leave early for a pro career.

In the most recent study, 77 percent of athletes who finished their athletic eligibility at Western graduated.

“We lose a number of people all the time that will graduate from another institution, but they will fail to appear on anyone’s graduation rates,” Selig said. “It’s the worst-case scenario of graduation rates.”

Selig also noted that several Hilltopper teams have cumulative GPAs over 3.0. And the university is pushing to boost those numbers even higher. The athletics department has added two evening study hall sessions a week this year for student athletes.

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