October 3, 2000
Contact: Elizabeth Conlisk
(614) 292-3040

OSU enhancing academic environment for student athletes
NCAA: Overall athlete graduation rate unchanged from 1999

   COLUMBUS -- Ohio State is intensifying efforts to develop student athletes who are winners in the classroom and in the sports arena.

While the university has been cited externally for its declining athletic graduation rates, officials have been taking dramatic steps over the last several years to reverse those trends and enhance the academic environment for athletes, according to Martha Garland, vice provost and dean for undergraduate studies. The most recent statistics released last week by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) illustrate that overall athlete graduation rates held steady from the year before, but football and basketball players continued to show unacceptably low graduation rates.

Administrators have adopted a number of proposals made by the University Senate Athletic Council and endorsed by President William E. Kirwan to improve student athletes’ progress toward graduation. Chief among them, and the most recent, is placing the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) in an oversight role in the academic support operation for athletes. Previously, the office reported only to the athletic director.

David O. Frantz, professor of English and last year’s Athletic Council chair, has been appointed to function as a faculty liaison between Student Athlete Support Services and OAA. Frantz reports to Garland in his capacity as liaison and has office space within Student Athlete Support Services in the newly opened Younkin Success Center.

“The partnership between Athletics and Academic Affairs provides a great opportunity to look at our population as a subgroup to come up with solutions for the whole student body,” said Kate Riffee, director of Student Athlete Support Services. “The connection has been very helpful from an educational standpoint.”

Frantz agrees. “The single biggest thing we need to work on is having student athletes make progress toward a degree rather than just maintaining eligibility,” he said. “Then, even if people leave early, they will be on the right track, and when they’re ready, they can finish school.

“We also have to change the expectation at the university. The expectation from the outset should be the attainment of a degree,” he said.

The university already has established academic requirements that exceed NCAA eligibility guidelines. Though the NCAA requires scholarship athletes to enroll full-time (12 hours) in courses that count toward graduation – including electives – the Colleges of the Arts and Sciences require that student athletes take at least 35 hours each year that are General Education Curriculum, major, or major prerequisite requirements.

Garland noted that certain elements of student progress – such as concerns about the curriculum and enrollment management issues – are most appropriately broached by a faculty liaison, in this case a longtime OSU professor respected by colleagues and students. Frantz has taught at Ohio State for more than three decades, is a member of the Academy of Teaching and received a Faculty Award for Distinguished University Service in 1997.

Frantz and Riffee were part of a July panel that told the University Board of Trustees that reports focusing on Ohio State student athletes’ graduation rates don’t tell the whole story. Frantz said that, in fact, about 90 percent of student athletes who exhaust their eligibility do graduate from the university, and in most cases, athletes’ grade point averages match or exceed those of the rest of the student body. If the athletes do leave, Frantz said efforts are made to ensure they leave in good academic standing so that they may return to complete their degrees without starting over.

As it developed proposals relating to athletes’ academic performance, the panel visited three other institutions – the University of Nebraska and Florida State and Penn State universities – whose student-athlete graduation rates exceed Ohio State’s.

The panel found that challenges at Ohio State, for both student athletes and the entire student population, include the use of the quarter system, the nonuniformity of the General Education Curriculum among different majors, students’ ability to drop courses late in a quarter without penalty and, in some cases, the inability to enroll in desired majors.

Another factor is a higher transfer rate among Ohio State athletes who are unsatisfied with their athletic performance. If these student athletes transfer to another institution, it counts against the university’s athlete graduation rate. Ohio State also has more aided athletes than any other Division I institution in the country – 502 of the university’s 850 athletes are on scholarship. Student Athlete Support Services employs seven full-time counselors, a life skills coordinator and manager of study tables and tutors, six graduate student mentors working one-on-one with athletes and about 70 tutors, proctors and computer lab monitors.

The academic performance of student athletes has been given considerable attention at Ohio State for the past three years. Three years ago, for the first time, athletes’ graduation rates dipped below the overall student graduation rates at Ohio State. The trend has continued; for the class that entered in 1993, the six-year graduation rate for athletes was 50 percent, and for the overall student body, it was 56 percent. The national average Division I student-athlete graduation rate is 58 percent, according to the NCAA.

Riffee said that though many athletes’ decision to leave OSU is not related to their academic standing, the climate for them while they’re here is a factor in their success. “Everyone who crosses the path of a student athlete needs to have the academic mission in mind,” she said. “We must provide an environment that’s conducive to graduation.”

In addition to creating a stronger link between athletes and academics, the university also is:

“This is not just about numbers,” Garland said. “If an athlete’s career is interrupted, we don’t want that interruption to be academically fatal.

“Ohio State’s athletics program is excellent, and we’re proud of that,” she said. “But we must not lose sight of the need to support these athletes as students first, so they can achieve success once they leave the university.”