Graduation rates rise for MSU athletes
MSU student-athletes have been making strides on more than just the hardwood and the gridiron, according to recent data released by the NCAA.
The NCAA’s annual Graduation Success Rates, or GSR, report shows MSU’s overall six-year student-athlete graduation rate between 2004-2010 is 1 percent higher than the national average of 82 percent.
Men’s basketball has a graduation rate of 82 percent, well above the national average of 68 percent.
MSU has made academics more of a focus during the past decade, Director of Student-Athlete Support Services Jim Pignataro said.
Although academics have become more of a priority in college athletics at MSU, there still are lingering stereotypes about how much they value education, sociology professor Toby Ten-Eyck said.
“There’s a notion that athletes are taking advantage of the system and getting a free education, but (that they) don’t really care if they graduate,” he said.
Pignataro said athletes in some sports, which have prominent professional leagues, often have lower graduation rates across the board.
“When you have sports with a professional level, like football or basketball, many times student-athletes will leave to pursue their careers,” he said. “That might be a semester short of graduation.”
The women’s track, soccer, tennis, volleyball and golf teams all have a 100 percent graduation rate, which might be because their expectation to play professional sports is lower than men’s and they put more effort into preparing for another career, Ten-Eyck said.
Having an established coach and program, such as Tom Izzo with the men’s basketball team, also contributes to rising graduation rates, Pignataro said.
Although the MSU football team had the second lowest graduation rate at MSU at 62 percent after men’s golf at 56 percent, they saw a substantial increase from the first GSR in 1998 — raising their graduation rate by more than 20 percent since then.
Pignataro said this has to do with what head coach Mark Dantonio has done during his time here.
Academic discretions and skipping are “just not allowed” anymore, senior quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
Athletes who miss or fail classes are met with discipline on the field, such as 5:30 a.m. sled-pushing sessions that last 30 minutes to an hour, Cousins said.
“If you abuse the privilege of being able to come here and go to school, and you don’t take advantage of that, then you’re going to face a lot of control and rules and early warnings,” he said.
For senior wide receiver Keith Nichol, earning a degree as a student-athlete hasn’t come easy, but it’s been worth it.
He took extra classes to make up for credits lost when he transferred from the University of Oklahoma in 2008 and stayed an extra semester, but with graduation in sight, Nichol said he’s grateful to finally earn his degree in supply chain management.
“Everybody coming out of high school wants to be the star,” Nichol said.
“But getting that degree was really important to my mom, my parents and myself.”