By PAT EATON-ROBB,  Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s president says the school has turned the corner when it comes to the academic performance of its men’s basketball team, and has a plan in place to ensure better results in the future.

Susan Herbst told The Associated Press that Tuesday’s report showing a poor graduation rate for the national champion men’s basketball program did not come as a surprise.   (Click here to see federal graduation rates from NCAA report)

The report puts the program’s graduation success rate at 25 percent, well below the 68 percent for all of the nation’s men’s basketball teams.

The school began working on an academic improvement plan for the program last spring after the team scored a dismal 893 on the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate, which measures the academic performance of student athletes.

UConn lost two scholarships as a result of the score, which was well below the NCAA minimum score of 925.

“This takes constant vigilance,” Herbst said. “In a program like ours, a highly competitive program, students are going to have a lot of options. They have a lot of pressure on them and it’s up to the university to support them.”
Herbst said she has made improving the academic performance of the program a top priority after taking the job in June and has put in place an advisory committee of top faculty to ensure improvement.

The basketball improvement plan calls for the school to: ensure that athletes who leave early are academically eligible when they depart; require nine credit hours of summer school for returning players to ensure they are progressing toward graduation; provide more academic support services to incoming freshmen in the summer before they enroll and that fall; cut down on the number of transfers; and encourage players who leave early for a professional career to come back and finish their degrees.

“Like any adults who have gone to college long ago and come back, they have families, they have careers, it’s not that easy to come back and finish,” Herbst said. “But we’re working on that.  We want everyone who has gone to UConn, athlete or not, to eventually come back and complete. It’s getting a lot easier now and it’s a high priority of mine to work it through distance learning. So through coming to campus and distance learning I think
we can help people come back and finish their degrees.”

Former UConn stars Ben Gordon, Ray Allen and Kemba Walker are all enrolled in classes this semester during the NBA lockout. Scott Burrell and Donyell Marshall both completed their degrees in the summer of 2010.

Improving graduation rates and the APR could be a key in Connecticut’s ability to win an invited into a conference such as the Atlantic Coast Conference, which features top-flight academic institutions such as Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. The school has made no secret of its desire to join the ACC.

Messages seeking comment also were left for UConn coach Jim Calhoun and interim Athletic Director Paul Pendergast, but a spokesman said Herbst would speak for the university.

She said because of the improvements being made, the team’s APR this year will be well above any NCAA threshold that would trigger sanctions.

“I believe it is the high 900s,” she said. “It really is terrific and shows a massive improvement. There is no question that it needed work.”

Herbst also said she supports a proposal that would prevent teams with a low APR from participating in the NCAA tournament. But she also said she’s confident that such a rule won’t be implemented until schools such as Connecticut have a chance to show they have made improvements.  (See list of graduation rates by BCS standing, Final Four participation  and by sport)

“We just need time to prepare, and I think that’s true for a lot of institutions,” she said. “We need to get the supports in place so they can meet any new standard. I have no doubt that we’ll have that chance.”

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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