As UT sets its sights on a four-year graduation rate of 70 percent by 2016, one group of students is already there. In fact, the Texas Longhorns football team’s four-year grad rate is at 71 percent, already surpassing the University’s goal.
The Longhorns maintained this rate from 2004 to 2007, says John Bianco, associate athletics director for media relations. During that time, the team was 44-7 (an 86.7 percent winning percentage), won a National Championship, won two BCS Bowl games, and finished ranked in the Top 10 three times.
This is a dramatic improvement from previous years. According to the NCAA, UT’s six-year graduation rate for football players from 2001 to 2004 was 57 percent.
Head Coach Mack Brown said in a statement that the football program’s top priority is for its student-athletes to get their degrees.
“We work with them to be focused and have success both on the field and in the classroom,” Brown says. “It’s one of our proudest moments when they walk across that stage and later receive their T-Ring (signifying a letterman who has graduated). They understand that getting a degree from The University of Texas sets them up for great opportunities after football.”
Texas was one of 11 schools to achieve a 70 percent or better grad rate and register a winning record during the four-year period, Bianco says. West Virginia was the only other BCS conference school that earned more than 40 wins, an 80 percent winning percentage, and a better than 70 percent grad rate. It had a record of 41-9 (82 percent) and a 75 percent grad rate.
The athletics department has developed a comprehensive program to assist its student-athletes with their academics, says Brian Davis, associate athletic director for academics. The program includes assigning graduate students to serve as mentors and hiring tutors recommended by faculty, all of whom are trained by UT’s Sanger Learning Center or the Undergraduate Writing Center.
As student-athletes decide on their majors, Davis says, the athletics department works closely with UT’s colleges and schools to ensure student-athletes are taking the correct classes to fulfill graduation requirements. Once students are on the right path, the athletics staff continues to provide constant communication and guidance.
Graduating on time can be difficult, Davis says, but when players value their own education, they know what it takes.
“They also understand that when they perform well in the classroom, they’re better football players,” Davis says. “They are more responsible. They are more accountable. They are better teammates.”
UT’s current overall four-year graduation rate is 53 percent. This year, the federal government reported that the overall four-year grad rate is 31 percent for public colleges and 52 percent for private ones. The University of Virginia has the highest rate among public flagship schools, with 85 percent.
UT President Bill Powers has called the 70 percent goal “ambitious but attainable,” and last week he addressed the incoming freshman class at orientation about the importance of graduating in four years.
Photo by Tim Taliaferro
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