Last year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association proudly announced  that under its new system of measuring graduation rates, 76 percent of Division I athletes who entered their institutions from 1995 to 1998 had received diplomas within six years, compared with the comparable federal rate of 62 percent.
On Wednesday, the NCAA had a new reason for optimism -- the graduation rate for Division I athletes is up 1 percentage point over last year's total , and numbers rose slightly for men's basketball and football, which often lag behind in the data .
The "graduation success rate," as the NCAA calls its new rate, measures the four-year averages (in this case, athletes who entered college from 1996 to 1999 and either graduated or not by 2002 to 2005, respectively) of each team at an institution, as well as the overall graduation rate numbers for a particular sport nationally. The NCAA plans to release overall graduation success rates by institution, along with the latest federal graduation rate data, next month.
Myles Brand, the NCAA's president, along with many other college sports officials, have made the case that the federal graduation rate inaccurately measures the academic performance of college sports programs and teams, because it counts as a nongraduate any athlete in good academic standing who leaves a college without graduating, and fails to count as graduates those students -- some from community colleges -- who transfer in to an institution and then earn a degree.
The GSR excludes from its equation the former and includes the latter. It is part of the NCAA's new two-pronged approach to measuring academic performance along with the "academic progress rate," which looks at how many of a team's athletes return in good academic standing each term and are working toward their degrees. The NCAA penalizes teams with poor APR scores, but not those whose GSR scores are lagging.
The data show that Division I-AAA (which includes colleges that don't play Division I football) has the highest graduation rate at 80 percent, Division I-A is at 77 percent and Division I-AA is at 74 percent.
Not surprisingly, male athletes' graduation rates remain significantly behind their female counterparts. The male GSR rose to 70 percent -- up one percentage point from last year -- while the female rate remained steady at 86 percent. As the chart below shows, GSR numbers are significantly higher than the federal ones for both genders.
Division I Graduation Rates for Entering Classes of 1996-99, by Sport
Brand said his goal is for Division I to have an 80 percent graduation rate within five years. "We are continuing to make steady success," he said. "It's unrealistic to see these numbers go up rapidly. Bringing up the bottom is important; we need to see improvements in those areas."
Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Academic Performance, which helped create the new standards, said he expects chancellors and college presidents to ask questions of athletics directors whose teams have GSR scores that are well below the national average.
Some colleges with poor scores have played down the numbers, saying that they reflect athletes who have already graduated. Brand said the GSR and the APR -- measuring real-time progress -- are meant to be used in tandem. He added that the GSR data do not reflect the academic reform that Division I has adopted in the last three years, such as new initial eligibility and progress-toward-degree requirements.
Here is a look at how the teams ranked 1 through 25 in this week's Associated Press NCAA Division I-A football poll fared in the data that measure athletes who entered from 1996-99.
|Ohio State U.||55%||49%|
|U. of Southern California||55||52|
|West Virginia U.||63||52|
|U. of Florida||80||42|
|U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor||71||63|
|U. of Texas at Austin||40||29|
|U. of Louisville||53||47|
|Louisiana State U.||49||37|
|U. of Georgia||41||39|
|U. of Notre Dame||95||84|
|U. of Iowa||64||56|
|U. of Oregon||59||52|
|U. of Tennessee at Knoxville||58||40|
|U. of Oklahoma||52||44|
|Texas Christian U.||78||67|
|Florida State U.||52||42|
|U. of California at Berkeley||44||37|
|U. of Nebraska||88||75|
|Boise State U.||65||51|
|Georgia Institute of Technology||55||48|
|U. of Missouri at Columbia||53||45|