It was disappointing to see Kansas University at the bottom of bowl-bound Big 12 teams in a ranking of graduation rates and academic progress.
KU athletic department officials were quick to say the figures used in the ratings were old and that KU has made significant progress in boosting the academic performance and graduation rates of its athletes. Although the report released Monday set the overall graduation for KU's football team at 46 percent, Jim Marchiony, KU associate athletic director, said the latest figure is 56 percent. That compares favorably with the 57 percent graduation rate the report cited for all KU students.
The improved graduation rate for athletes isn't an accident. Marchiony noted that since Athletic Director Lew Perkins arrived at KU, the department has added four full-time academic advisers, doubled the budget for tutors to $240,000 and added a life-skills position in the student support area. "That tells you," Marchiony said, "how serious we are about paying attention to the APR (academic progress rate) and the graduation rates and doing whatever we can to make sure that we have the best rates we possibly can."
It does, indeed, seem that the athletic department is committed to meeting the academic standards set by the NCAA. The fact that schools that fail to meet those standards could lose scholarships is a significant incentive.
Students who give up class and personal time to represent the university on various sports teams deserve some special consideration, including academic help if they need it. However, it's interesting to contemplate how much the overall graduation rate at KU might be raised if non-athlete students received even a fraction of the special academic help afforded to student athletes.
Various special services are available to all students who need academic assistance, but funding to provide such services for non-athletes must be stretched to cover a far greater number of students. The athletic department simply can afford far more intensive help for its students than is available to the rest of the university.
Much of the athletic department's operation is funded by private donors who have designated their gifts for that purpose, but there's always a question of whether those donors might be persuaded to divert some of their funding to non-athletic programs if asked.
It's a matter of priorities. Maybe there's nothing wrong with the current priority KU and most other NCAA universities are placing on their athletic programs, but some observers are starting to wonder.