You are here

Academics committee makes graduate student recommendations

DI group proposes heightened academic standards for student-athletes who continue to compete after gaining degree

College athletes who have completed an undergraduate degree and choose to continue their education while continuing to compete could be required to meet enhanced academic standards if two concepts proposed by the Division I Committee on Academics become rules.

The committee will ask the Division I Council to sponsor legislation that would require graduate and post-baccalaureate students to declare a specific degree program and another measure that would require those students to complete at least six hours of degree-applicable credit per semester.

The rule changes would ensure that postgraduate students competing in athletics are making meaningful academic progress toward a specific degree. Current academic requirements for students who wish to compete after graduation are minimal and require:

  • Enrollment in graduate school or other postgraduate studies. Students are not required to declare which degree they are seeking or a major for post-baccalaureate studies.
  • Enrollment in six hours of academic credit.

“The recommendations proposed by the committee would make sure students seeking additional educational opportunities after earning a degree remain academically engaged,” said committee member Kurt Zorn, faculty athletics representative at Indiana University, Bloomington, and chair of the Committee on Academics Subcommittee on Student-Athlete Academics. “They also would provide academic accountability for students who continue to compete.”

The concepts developed after committee members reviewed data gleaned from a first-ever study of the academic behavior and outcomes of students who compete after graduation. The study revealed 85 percent of all postgraduate students compete for the same school, and most (73 percent) are pursuing graduate degrees rather than post-baccalaureate programs. The number of students competing after earning an undergraduate degree has increased substantially over the past seven years, especially in football and men’s and women’s basketball.

According to the study conducted by NCAA research staff, graduation rates vary by program type:

  • Of those who enrolled in grad school at the same school as their undergraduate education, 62 percent earned degrees.
  • Of students who pursued a graduate degree at a different school, 51 percent earned their degrees.
  • Of those pursuing a post-baccalaureate degree or second major, 23 percent earned that degree.

Student-athletes competing in football (38 percent) and men’s basketball (35 percent) earned the lowest rates of degree completion. Those sports also have the lowest rate of degree achievement at the undergraduate level. College football players also comprise the majority of students competing after graduation (36 percent), followed by members of women’s track and field and cross country teams  (10 percent) and men’s basketball teams (8 percent).

The committee examined additional data, including Academic Progress Rate points earned, credits earned per term and postgraduate program type and length.

Nearly 90 percent of Division I schools participated in the study and provided academic outcome data for 3,500 postgraduate students at least two years after they earned undergraduate degrees. The broad membership participation in the study helped the committee make informed policy recommendations.

The study was spurred by a division-wide conversation about graduate transfers, but the data showed the committee that the issue was broader than just students who pursue continuing education at a different school.

Committee members based their recommendations on a set of principles, including that schools should be held accountable for the academic success of students even after they earn an undergraduate degree; that students should be academically engaged and meet minimum academic standards while competing in college sports; and that students who have graduated and continue to compete should be treated similarly for eligibility purposes, whether they transfer or not.

The deadline for proposals in the current legislative cycle was Sept. 1, so the Division I Council will consider introducing the legislation into the 2016-17 legislative cycle. If the Council agrees to put the proposals into the cycle, votes will be cast in April 2017. If adopted, the new rules would be effective Aug. 1, 2017.

In related conversation, the committee will continue to consider whether to adjust the Academic Progress Rate for competing graduate students, though members are committed to keeping the Academic Performance Program simple and easy to implement. The committee is currently focusing its conversation on the retention component of the Academic Progress Rate.

Currently, students who have graduated automatically earn the retention point, whether they transfer or not. When that policy was adopted, the point was seen as a reward for graduation. But as the number of graduates – and number of graduate transfers – increase, Division I leaders indicated a wish to pursue more accountability.

The committee will continue to get feedback from the membership on different ways to adjust the Academic Progress Rate to provide that accountability.

Committee members agreed any change to the Academic Performance Program should support the academic success of students after they graduate without discouraging them from enrolling in postgraduate and graduate programs. The committee will continue discussing possible changes to the model with the goal of making a recommendation early next year.