This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Faculty asked to help improve teams' academic scores

Published: April 7, 2005

Contributing Editor

The Division of Athletics is asking for help from across the university-particularly from the faculty-to turn around the scores some UB teams received in a provisional run of the NCAA's new Academic Progress Rate (APR) for Division I colleges and universities.

The issue was addressed at yesterday's meeting of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee by William Maher, interim director of athletics, and Charles R. Fourtner, professor of biological sciences and the faculty's athletic representative, who described the NCAA's "philosophical basis" for involving universities in ensuring student-athletes' academic success.

"The data this year was precisely used as a management tool, to shake coaches up, to shake administrators up, to say 'Here's where it's going,' to say 'Here's the new set of rules we're working with, here's your score and now here's what you need to do to get your house in order,'" Fourtner said.

The NCAA has developed a policy "in which it becomes a university's responsibility to pay some attention to the student-athlete and not put all the onus on the student for academic success," Fourtner said. "Any student should be able to maintain eligibility and continue in the institution—that is, if they are in a degree program in which they are interested—they should be able to proceed through that degree program and, therefore, you should be able to retain them."

The APR, which officially goes into effect this fall, provides Division I schools a measure of how they fare in terms of eligibility, retention, graduation rates and academic performance of their student-athletes. UB's football and women's basketball teams fell short of the minimal performance mark in the 2003-04 report; teams with low scores risk penalties, including the loss of grants. Maher and his staff now are in the process of evaluating how to improve UB's APR performance overall.

Why are the UB teams failing to make the grade? Part of the problem is the nature of the university itself, according to Fourtner, who described UB as "really a research institution that has an undergraduate program," with only a few of the bachelor-degree programs typically found "in the bailiwick of athletics," including secondary education, physical education and sports management.

Another problem is that UB's advisement practices follow "a bit of a laissez-faire philosophy," Fourtner said. Professional, athletic and faculty advisors at UB, he said, tend to offer lots of good advice without built-in opportunity for follow-up, compared with other institutions that "seem more concerned about making sure students will make it through.

"I deal with 1,000 students a year and I can't get them to come see me," Fourtner said. "They don't come because they get their advice from other places, their roommates and their friends. That has to stop because we as a university pay a penalty for that."

More effective advising practices would help avoid some of the problems student-athletes have encountered in taking courses inappropriate for their grade levels and for their majors, Fourtner explained. An example is a student who takes Chemistry 101 in the fall semester and registers for a spring section of Chemistry 102 before learning that he received a failing grade in the first course.

Another mistake, Fourtner said, is combining students who vary greatly academically within the same section of a course.

"We put students with 1000 SATs in classrooms with students with 1600 SATs and say, Try it,'" Fourtner said.

The faculty sets the criteria for undergraduate admissions, advising, grading and course requirements, Fourtner said, and can lead the charge for positive changes in these areas for student-athletes, a majority of whom, he noted, have performed as well or better academically better than UB students in general.

Comparing student-athletes to UB students in general shows them neck-and-neck in terms of grades, with 44 percent of athletes earning a 3.0 or better GPA, while 43 percent of UB students earn that same rate.

"I'm really impressed with the student-athletes we bring in here. They are hard-working, highly motivated kids. On a whole, they've spoken very well for this university," Fourtner said.

In other business, Patricia G. Armstrong, director of admissions, reported that UB will enroll 3,200 in its freshman class for the 2005-06 academic year, and that the 9,616 applicants offered admission have until May 2 to make their initial deposits to secure a place. Last year, 51 percent of those admitted "were from the most selective group of students," Armstrong said, adding that "I would expect we would be somewhere in that neighborhood again this year."

A total of 1,250 students attended UB's preview day last weekend and the snowy weather forced a group flying in from out of state to land in Rochester, so the university sent a bus there to pick them up, according to Armstrong.

"It cost us hundreds of dollars in pizza, but they had a wonderful time by all accounts," she said, laughing.