Wednesday, August 08, 2007

THE THREAD: A RETURN TO ACADEMIC QUESTIONS


Following up on the Steve Spurrier controversy, The State delves into the CW that academics and athletics are in conflict and, no surprise, backs up what everyone (apparently including the author) believed to begin with: There is a conflict, and it does bear on the admissions flap.

But a larger issue remains: Should a public university such as USC have standards higher than the NCAA minimums? ...
The NCAA minimum standards are a sliding scale: The higher the grade point average, the lower the SAT or ACT test score needs to be and vice versa. But the Gamecock coaches complain that the new admissions process has been decided by a committee, without much definitive word on what exactly is needed. ...
"No committee, unless they can look inside a young man and determine his desire to get an education, his commitment, can determine whether a kid can graduate or not," [former Baylor coach Chuck] Reedy said.
Of course, much of USC’s worry is based upon the academic progress rate (APR), the NCAA’s new measuring device for academics, which penalizes schools for poor classroom performance by its athletes. South Carolina has cited the APR as its reason for raising standards in order to avoid the loss of future athletic scholarships.

The emphasis, of course, is C&F's. But C&F would go even further: If South Carolina's institutional goal is to admit only students who can graduate, then the university is doing a damn poor job of it.

In fact, the most recent figures available (from this PDF) show that the four-year graduation rate for the South Carolina cohort that entered school in 2002 is 44.9 percent. The five-year rate for the 2001 class is 59 percent, and the six-year rate (which, for some reason, is the industry standard) for the 2000 group is 62.4 percent.

In other words, almost four in 10 students who come through the admissions process don't graduate in six years -- and few of those left behind after that are going to graduate at all, if you follow the natural trend of the numbers.

The numbers for the 1996-99 cohorts of South Carolina football players (back when the numbers were even worse than those above for the general population) was 64 percent according to the NCAA's calculation, about 54 percent according to the federal government. (The numbers are from this PDF; the gap comes from a methodology difference.) When you look at the NCAA "Graduation Success Rate" -- which is, after all, what the university is puportedly worried about -- student-athletes are doing about the same or maybe better than their counterparts.

But even if that were not the case, to use "academic reform" as a reason to not admit students runs contrary to the spirit of reform, or at least what the spirit of reform should be. The point should not be to raise graduation rates by any means necessary; instead, it should be to graduate more of the students you would have admitted before academic reform was put in place.

In other words, is the emphasis on graduating student-athletes or only admitting "the right kind" of student-athlete so you can get the graduation rate up without expending any extra effort?

The job of a public university is not to weed out undesirable students who are otherwise qualified out of some vague notion that they might not be able to graduate. Granted, the school can't graduate for the student, but the university is supposed to provide the resources necessary for the student to graduate. If no more than six out of every 10 students walk off your campus with a diploma within six years of beginning classes, something is wrong with the system, not the students.

This isn't a tirade against the University of South Carolina. I received my diploma there, and am proud of having graduated. In four years, if it matters. I think it's a pretty good public university. Low college graduation rates are a problem that reaches far beyond the state of South Carolina and far beyond athletics departments. It's a problem for many states, across the board.

If you want to find a way to graduate more students (athletes and non-athletes alike), I'm all for it. But if you want to use the sanctimonious pseudo-conflict between academics and athletics as a shield for keeping qualified students out because they might drag down your numbers, then go ahead and call "academic reform" what it is.

A sham.

Elsewhere:
--Are watch lists even worth the paper they're printed on anymore? Sorry, but when Blake Mitchell has the potential to be named the nation's best quarterback, something's wrong there. Or these guys are watching a different QB than the one C&F sees on a weekly basis.
--Break out the crumpets! Yale is the favorite to win the Ivy League.


Hello, I'm Mike McLeod. You've never heard of me, but NY Times loves me.

--Frank Beamer has discovered the enemy from last year's Peach Bowl -- and it's a spy. Hey, Valerie Plame's got to find work somewhere, right?


A covert Virginia Tech operative. C&F will not reveal his sources.

--Oregon's newest twist? Going to China. C&F has no interest in seeing the uniforms for that game.

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