"I am very supportive of the NCAA's new academic reform measures," said Eric Brey, director of the Thornton Center. "I think it's getting universities headed in the right direction. I'm very proud that the graduation rate of our student-athletes is higher than the general student population."
A key focus for the Tennessee athletic programs is to graduate student-athletes and prepare them for real-world experiences. In 2001, UT opened the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center to provide student-athletes with superior academic support programs and personal and career development assistance. Since the creation of the Thornton Center, Tennessee's student-athletes have achieved increasing academic success:
-- Twenty-five UT student-athletes earned their diplomas in December 2005. Last year, 87 current and former Vols and Lady Vols graduated from the university, continuing Tennessee's athletics commitment to excellence in the classroom.
-- On the Fall 2005 SEC Academic Honor Roll, Tennessee was third among league schools with 46 student-athletes making the list. Among that group were 30 Volunteer football student-athletes, most of any SEC school.
-- Tennessee had 243 male and female student-athletes achieve a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher for the fall semester. These students account for approximately 53 percent of the student-athletes on campus. Twenty-eight student-athletes earned a perfect 4.0 GPA.
-- Eighteen former student-athletes have returned to earn their bachelor's degree through the Renewing Academic Commitment (RAC) program since fall 2003. Currently there are 12 former student-athletes enrolled in the RAC program.
"I am very proud of the accomplishments our student-athletes have made, said Joan Cronan, women's athletics director. "The Thornton Center staff has done a great job keeping our student-athletes on track to graduate."
In 2003, the university created the RAC program to encourage former athletes who left in good standing to return to the university to achieve their degree. The program works with former student-athletes by assisting them with advice on degree requirements remaining, course scheduling, tutoring, employment and internship opportunities offered through the CHAMPS/Life Skills Office, and use of the Thornton Center for their every day needs.
"The RAC program has been a great way for former athletes to return to school and finish their degree," said Mike Hamilton, men's athletic director.
There are currently 12 former student-athletes that are working with the RAC Program and over 20 that have inquired about returning to school in the near future. In 2004-05, there were nine graduates in the RAC Program.
With the recent changes to NCAA rules for academic progression, the role of the Thornton Center is even more important. The new academic progress requirements call for student-athletes to complete various percentages toward degree requirements, specific grade-point averages and other prerequisites to remain eligible to compete.
"The Thornton Center has been very active in the NCAA's academic progression discussions and has put in place a great framework to make sure our athletes stay on track," said Hamilton. "If our student-athletes aren't winning academically, they won't be competing."
This year, the NCAA rolled out a new graduation success rate (GSR) calculation to measure the academic success of student-athletes at NCAA member institutions. The GSR adds transfer students on scholarship that fit into the cohort and deletes those students that choose to leave and would have been academically eligible to compete the next semester had they remained.
The GSR is considered a more accurate account of student-athletes' graduation rate because it is more inclusive of student-athletes who compete here and omits those who do what is right academically while here but choose to transfer. The federal graduation rate does not add transfer students, nor does it take into account the students that choose to transfer to leave prior to graduation. According to the Department of Education, approximately 60 percent of the general student population in the United States transfer.