So first, I want to say that I am happy that UCLA has met or exceeded the minimum NCAA APR (http://web1.ncaa.org/app_data/apr2007/110_2007_apr.pdf) . I am a firm believer that all student-athletes are in fact students, and should be students first and athletes second. So UCLA's APR is a good thing.
But, at the same time, I am very concerned about student-athlete graduation rates, especially, but not only, in the "big" sports of men's basketball and football. (http://stanford.scout.com/2/748689.html). If you look through these numbers, they should be of concern to anyone who is interested in the best interests of the students who are privileged to go to UCLA (and to many Pac 10 schools) and who we are privileged to enjoy watching.
A few things jump off the page, at least to me. The first is that Stanford does a far better job in graduating their players. Now I know there are institutional reasons for this. And I know that, in general, UCLA and most other Pac 10 schools get kids who are more likely to make it professionally than Stanford does. However, even at UCLA, most of the football players will not make it as pros. The same goes for baseball (though there are of course more who linger in the minor leagues for their careers). I believe that UCLA needs to do a better job of graduating their athletes. A college degree is this century's high school degree. Your chance of success and earning potential go up markedly with one in hand (http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/09/13/collegeboard).
But this is only the tip of the concern iceberg for me. If you look at the two different graduation-gap statistics given in the scout.com article, there are some areas of major concern. UCLA is rather high on two lists -- the differences between student athlete graduation rates and the general student population, and of equal, if not greater concern, the gap between african-american student athletes caucasian athletes. Both the fact that these gaps are significant, and the fact that UCLA consistently seems to be in the middle of Pac 10 on many of these lists, and shows up on even some of the national charts, should be a concern.
Now I know that some people will say that the graduation rates reflect that fact that UCLA gets many students who have professional potential. And there is of course some truth to that, especially in basketball. But basketball is such a small pool in the larger athletic waters. That UCLA can only graduate 61% of its african-american athletes, as opposed to 81% of its caucasian athletes (and the fact that 61% represents second best in the Pac 10, which is grim in and of itself), is not something to be proud of.
I want UCLA to be actively concerned about these numbers. I want UCLA alumni and UCLA supporters to be actively concerned about these numbers. They should not be acceptable to anyone. Now this does not mean I am not a realist. This does not mean that I don't think the APR is of value, that I don't think Kevin Love, for instance, should go pro, or that I am not happy that he, and other student-athletes are making sure they are in good standing when they drop-out/go pro. Because I am happy that they are responsible to themselves and to the school. But UCLA should do better. I know there is a different between public and private schools (having taught at both UCLA and Stanford), but I believe that UCLA should be second to Stanford in these various numbers in every category, year in, year out.
I know there are people who disagree with me, who say that a solid APR is good enough. But an education, and a UCLA degree, lasts far longer than any athletic career, for those few who actually achieve one. A long time ago, Horace Mann said: "Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men,--the balance-wheel of the social machinery." (Look at the insidehighered.com article I linked above if you want that quantified a bit.) If we, as a society, let our student-athletes leave a great academic institution like UCLA without an education and make no even minimal effort to anything about it, then the University, and we too, are indeed guilty of using them for our own amusement and making money on their backs.
I believe we can do better.