If you watch ESPN on a semi-regular basis, you’ve probably seen the NCAA public service announcement that features several former Division I athletes rattling off statistics about student-athlete graduation rates.

At the end of the spot, a women’s basketball player peers into the camera and says, confidently and matter-of-factly, “Still think we’re just a bunch of dumb jocks?”

The facts and figures don’t lie. Despite the “dumb jock” stigma often associated with college athletes, they are ahead of the general student population in many areas.

At The University of Montana, the academic performance of student athletes is probably much more impressive than you would guess. For the past 13 consecutive semesters, Grizzly athletes have maintained an average cumulative GPA above 3.0, with UM’s 272 student-athletes turning in an average GPA of 3.06 for the fall 2011 semester.

That’s a full .15 points higher than the average GPA of 2.9 that was earned by the 10,000-plus undergraduates in UM’s general student population.

On top of that, athletes averaged more credits (13.29 versus 11.84) and earned more perfect 4.0 GPAs (7.7 percent versus 5.4 percent) than the general student population, despite time-consuming commitments like practice, travel and competitions.

Granted, the sports that often get the worst rap for academic performance — football and men’s basketball — didn’t make the list of UM teams with the top five GPAs. That group included women’s cross country (3.69), women’s track and field (3.45), volleyball (3.42), soccer (3.32) and men’s tennis (3.31).  But that just goes to show, you can’t judge a group of almost 300 athletes based on vague stereotypes.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.

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