After three years of staying stagnant , the graduation rate of Division I athletes has edged up three points, to a new record of 82 percent, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said Tuesday.  NCAA officials expect the number will continue to rise as higher eligibility standards  are put in place at this week’s meeting  of the Division I Board of Directors.
The NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate measures the proportion of athletes who get their degrees within six years (with some exceptions that distinguish it from the federal graduation rate, which in most cases is lower than the GSR). In explaining this year’s improvements -- and in making a case for the proposed rules changes on the table at this week’s board meeting -- officials pointed to higher academic standards put in place in 2002-3, which required higher grade point averages and more core-course credits for athletes to be eligible for competition.
At the same time, the NCAA significantly lowered the minimum SAT score players needed to compete, but to make up for that in 2004 it established the Academic Progress Rate, which measures athletes' progress toward degree. The graduating cohort of 2010, which entered college in 2004, was one of the first to face these higher standards, officials said.
“I am absolutely certain this is a direct result of the reforms we made a few years ago,” said Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford. “I predict, in fact, that we’ll see even greater improvement in the years upcoming, because we’ll see more and more students who will be affected by these standards."
But since 1995, when the NCAA previously toughened its academic eligibility standards, overall graduation rates have risen eight percentage points (and 10 points for black athletes). But Harrison and NCAA President Mark Emmert want to bring the lower GSRs of some subgroups up to par with the overall average -- or, at least, to help them hit the 80-percent mark.
The two sports of greatest concern are also the ones that bring in the most money. While the football and men’s basketball graduation success rates this year either rose slightly or stayed steady, the rates are still significantly lower than the overall NCAA average of 82 percent. Male basketball players are graduating at a rate two points higher this year, at 68 percent, while the football GSR dropped 0.6 points to 68.6 percent. Emmert said he wants to “work hard” on raising the rates in those two sports.
The four-year rolling graduation success rate for the last four cohorts of enrolling athletes, which the NCAA also reports with this data, was slightly lower than this year's, at 80 percent. The GSR for male athletes who entered from 2001-4 was 73 percent, compared to 88 percent for female athletes.
The Division I Board of Directors has already approved a higher minimum Academic Progress Rate of 930, up from 900, a score meant to indicate that at least half the athletes are on track to graduation. Teams whose athletes don't hit that rate can face financial penalties and be barred from postseason competition.
"It’s about student-athletes in a collegiate setting, and the APR requirement for participation in postseason play is a wonderful motivator,” Emmert said of his support for a higher minimum score. “What we want to make sure is that our student-athletes at all of our institutions and all of our sports in Division I are students first and foremost, and that while the vast majority of our universities are performing at the levels that we’d expect now, some aren’t.” (A searchable NCAA database  breaks down the rates by institution, sport and year.)
At its meeting Thursday the board will also consider other ideas to strengthen eligibility standards, such as requiring athletes to have higher grade point averages and more core courses before they can compete. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said in an e-mail Tuesday that the data show a “clear relationship” between academic outcomes (i.e., higher GSRs) and higher high school GPAs in core courses and test scores, as well as progress-to-degree while in college, as measured by the APR.
The NCAA also commented Tuesday on the 2004 cohort’s Federal Graduation Rates, for which its dislike is no secret. The federal graduation rates are consistently lower than the NCAA’s GSR because the former considers athletes who transfer as dropouts, even though they may graduate from another institution. The GSR tracks and includes those athletes in its rates, meaning its final counts include 37 percent more students than the federal rate does. Students who entered Division I institutions in 2004 had a federal graduation rate of 65 percent, one point higher than last year’s rate, which had also held steady for three years.
Separate data released Monday showed a 73 percent graduation rate for Division II athletes, who are measured through a formula called the Academic Success Rate, which, unlike the GSR, also tracks the many non-scholarship athletes at those institutions. That's the same as last year's ASR and, like the GSR, the highest ever.
Division I Graduation Success Rates, by Race and Gender
|Entering class, 2002-3||Entering class, 2003-4|
|Overall||79 %||82 %|
|White||84 %||87 %|
|Black||64 %||68 %|
|White Males||78 %||83 %|
|Black Males||59 %||62 %|
|White Females||90 %||92 %|
|Black Females||76 %||80 %|
Division I Graduation Success Rates, by Sport
|Division I Sport||Entering class, 2002-3||Entering class, 2003-4|
|Baseball||69.6 %||77.4 %|
|Men's Basketball||66.4 %||67.7 %|
|Women's Basketball||84.8 %||85.9 %|
|Women's Bowling||63.3 %||81.8 %|
|Women's Crew||92 %||91.9 %|
|Men's Cross Country / Track||72.8 %||78.3 %|
|Women's Cross Country / Track||82.9 %||86.1 %|
|Men's Fencing||100 %||89.4 %|
|Women's Fencing||88.5 %||94.2 %|
|Women's Field Hockey||92.4 %||95.4 %|
|Football (FBS)||69.2 %||68.6 %|
|Football (FCS)||64.7 %||72.1 %|
|Men's Golf||83.5 %||82.4 %|
|Women's Golf||87.7 %||88.2 %|
|Men's Gymnastics||89.5 %||92.2 %|
|Women's Gymnastics||91.4 %||91.3 %|
|Men's Ice Hockey||81 %||88.5 %|
|Women's Ice Hockey||89.7 %||94.1 %|
|Men's Lacrosse||88 %||89.3 %|
|Women's Lacrosse||93.9 %||94.5 %|
|Men's Rifle||82.6 %||83.3 %|
|Women's Rifle||73.1 %||83.3 %|
|Men's Skiing||77.8 %||90.5 %|
|Women's Skiing||90.9 %||92.3 %|
|Men's Soccer||77.9 %||82.6 %|
|Women's Soccer||87.7 %||91.1 %|
|Softball||85.4 %||86.7 %|
|Men's Swimming||84.6 %||87.7 %|
|Women's Swimming||90.7 %||91.5 %|
|Men's Tennis||80.1 %||88.3 %|
|Women's Tennis||89.9 %||90.3 %|
|Men's Volleyball||72.9 %||87.2 %|
|Women's Volleyball||86.7%||90.6 %|
|Men's Water Polo||80.3 %||87 %|
|Women's Water Polo||91.4 %||91.6 %|
|Wrestling||73.4 %||74.2 %|
|Men's Overall||72 %||76.7 %|
|Women's Overall||87.1 %||89.3 %|