Newsom’s mandate after NCAA sanctions hit a state school for academic fraud is the right move. But UC and CSU needs to recognize major flaws extend far beyond the court, field and classroom.
As California takes on the responsibilities of becoming an emerging rogue state, Sacramento should not overlook the need for a wholesale review of how its public colleges and universities vet and fund athletic programs. The state’s goal should be to raise standards well above NCAA minimum thresholds for graduating athletes—a low bar the current system is having difficulty reaching.
On Friday, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom sent a mandate for California State University schools to reform their athletic departments two days after the NCAA penalized Cal State Northridge for academic fraud. The report, made public Wednesday, showed the NCAA found a men’s basketball staffer had completed coursework for 10 athletes.
The NCAA put the school on three year’s probation among other, smaller penalties.
Newsom said the sanctions were, “a wakeup call.”
“CSU’s student-athletes are offered an education in return for physical and career sacrifices, to the financial benefit of the schools they represent and the spirit of community identity that their dedication fosters,” Newsom wrote in a letter to Cal State Chancellor Tim White. “The troubling data suggests that some public CSU campuses are failing to uphold their end of the deal.”
Recent studies show UC/CSU athlete matriculation rates have trended up slightly from the nadir in 2013 when only 44 percent of Cal football players and only 38 percent of Cal basketball players received a diploma, both conference lows.
Even with the uptick, the numbers are still far from impressive. By the end of 2015, the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data released by the NCAA showed UC Berkeley football graduation rates had climbed 52 percent and basketball to 55 percent. These numbers still trail NCAA graduation rates by a wide margin. According to GSR data nationwide, 82 percent of Division I freshmen scholarship student-athletes who have entered college since 2004 earned a degree. In Division II, the number is 73 percent.
Graduating just a little over half your freshman athletes should not be the goal, rather the baseline.
Recognizing this, Newsom introduced a 14-point plan to increase graduation rates at UC system schools earlier this year. But the reality is Sacramento does not currently have the leverage it needs to impose sanctions on schools and programs unless a tangible infraction like CSUN’s comes to the fore.
Part of the reason, according to the University of California, is the system relied on state funding for almost a quarter of its budget as recently as a decade ago. That figure is now about 10 percent, after more than $1 billion budget in cuts during that time. The cuts have resulted in higher tuition, an infusion of out-of-state students and shrinking oversight.
State cuts notwithstanding, UC is now known as the public university system of record in the world. Both Berkeley and UCLA are among the top-ranked universities internationally.
This has upped the level of competition to get in, causing many California natives to miss out on their shot at an in-state public education altogether. Tuition hikes for those who do get in are also notable. UC’s in-state undergraduate tuition and fees are roughly $13,500 a year, well above the national average for public universities.
UC/CSU is a political and social cauldron waiting to bubble over thanks to a marginalization of in-state students, major athletic programs that still have a tough time graduating a simple majority of athletes, corruption within the top ranks, steady tuition hikes and an anemic state body to govern them. These problems need to remain top of the fold as California continues to assert its autonomy and secure its borders for the safety of its citizenry, environment, businesses and natural resources.
The UC and CSU system is currently a symbol of what we do best in the Golden State, but Californians, among all their pending decisions, will have to actively make tough choices on how to maintain and increase that standard. And that needs to start with how we view the quality of life for athletes who are offered an education in exchange for being the faces of the system.
It should be an easy call to put all resources available toward increasing our lead in the face of an incoming administration hell bent on decimating this nation’s real backbone, public education.