Dec. 2, 2009
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It has been said that athletics are the front door, the welcome mat, to a university. If so, the front door called "Lobos" is doing its share to enhance the University of New Mexico's reputation as an institution of higher education.
The Lobos athletic department graduated 55 percent of the student-athletes who enrolled at UNM as freshmen during the 2002-03 school year - a mark 11 percent higher than the graduation mark (44 percent) for all students who enrolled at UNM as freshmen during the same period.
These numbers were released in November by the NCAA and reflect the graduation rate for the general student population of a university and also the graduation rate for student-athletes.
And since that 44 percent rate includes student-athletes, it's important to note that the graduation rate of the Lobo student-athlete helps bring up the all-student rate at UNM.
"When I came to New Mexico, it was a major concern and an immediate goal to increase those graduation numbers," said Paul Krebs, a UNM Vice President in charge of athletics. "Obviously, we want success in competition, but any success in athletics is tainted, if your student-athletes aren't successful in the classroom.
"This improvement is a testament to our athletes, to our coaches, and to the academic support system that embraces our student-athletes from Day One."
The Lobos' grades have continued to climb under Krebs' administration. He inherited a program that posted a 37 percent graduation rate in 2006, a rate based on student-athletes who enrolled at UNM in 1999-2000. It went to 51 percent in 2007 (2000-01 freshmen), 50 percent in 2008 (2001-02 freshmen), and 55 percent in 2009 for the 2002-03 freshmen class.
That five percent jump from 2008 to 2009 is significant, but UNM is shooting for another five percent leap.
"When I met with Paul Krebs about establishing a realistic graduation rate, we set our first goal at 60 percent," said Henry Villegas, an Assistant Athletics Director in charge of academics. "We were around 50 percent (in 2007) and we thought a reasonable goal was a 10 percent jump. Once we get to there, we'll shoot higher."
The Lobos also have seen significant jumps in the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) since the pre-Krebs' days. The GSR factors in transfer athletes (coming and going), while the aforementioned federal rate (55 percent) only tracks incoming freshmen. The Lobos' overall GSR was 72 percent.
In fact, every Lobo sport tracked moved in a positive GSR direction since 2006:
Baseball: 2006 - 50 percent; 2009 - 58 percent.
Football: 2006 - 43 percent; 2009 - 53 percent.
Men's basketball: 2006 - 7 percent; 2009 - 43 percent.
Men's track: 2006 - 55 percent; 2009 - 75 percent.
Women's basketball: 2006 - 80 percent; 2009 - 92 percent.
Women's track: 2006 - 71 percent; 2009 - 85 percent.
The jump in Lobo male graduation rates (GSR) went from 48 percent in 2006 to 60 percent in 2009. The women jumped from 58 percent to 72 percent over that same period.
"Paul Krebs and Tim Cass (Senior Associate AD) are adamant about our athletes becoming honor students," said Ray Birmingham, UNM's baseball coach. "And this isn't just talk. They do everything humanly possible to stress to the coaches and our athletes that this is an institution of higher learning. That always comes first."
A few specific sports made some drastic jumps in their Graduation Success Rates from the previous season. Men's basketball's 43 percent in 2009 was an increase of 16 percent from the 27 percent rate of 2008. Women's basketball's 92 percent Graduation Success Rate was a leap of 13 percent from the 79 percent posted in 2008.
"We're heading in the right direction," said Villegas. "We can't do what we do here (academics), if we don't have the discipline from the coaches and the expectations from the administration.
"Paul Krebs is extremely interested in the welfare and the overall experience of our student-athletes. It's important to Paul that all Lobos receive both the encouragement and the support that they need to be successful."
A recent keystone in the academic foundation provided for Lobos is the Student Support and Services Center, which includes the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success. As much as any UNM facility, the building is a symbol to the Lobos' commitment to academic success.
The combination of the academic philosophy from the Lobo administration, the support systems and support personnel, and the not-always-gentle prodding from the coaches, has led to improved grades as well as improved graduation rates at UNM.
The Lobos set a school-record GPA of 3.14 in the fall of 2008 and backed that with a 3.12 GPA in the spring of 2009 - the second highest all-time for that grading period. UNM had 13 of its 17 sports registering a 3.0 or higher in the spring of 2009.
Villegas says he believes the graduation rate at UNM is higher for student-athletes than for the general body of students because of the support and motivation that the student-athlete receives.
"A non-student-athlete doesn't always have someone specifically providing the motivation," said Villegas. "The carrot for the student-athlete is the opportunity to play collegiate athletics and also to get financial help with their education.
"They also are dealing with a specific coach, who doesn't simply expect success in the classroom, but who also demands it.
"From the athletic department's viewpoint, we understand the demands on a student-athlete in terms of time commitment, stress, training, travel, even injury recovery. We have an obligation to give them quality support and quality encouragement. We want our student-athletes to graduate and we are committed to do our part to ensure that happens."