Significant and historically high graduation rates for African-American men’s basketball student-athletes are fueling an all-time high Graduation Success Rate for Division I college athletes.
More than three-quarters of Division I African-American men’s basketball players -- 77 percent-- earned their degrees, up five points from last year, 31 points over the past 15 years and the highest rate ever, according to the most recent data.
Their exceptional improvement has contributed to this year’s 86 percent GSR for all Division I student-athletes, tying last year’s all-time highest rate.
Overall, 80 percent of Division I men’s basketball players earned a degree in six years, up 3 points from last year. Of all African-American Division I student-athletes, 74 percent graduated within six years. These rates are all-time highs as well and based on student-athletes who entered college in 2009.
“This is a hugely significant and extremely important moment,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “Over the last 15 years, the overall Graduation Success Rate has dramatically improved, but the really good news is how college sports helps more and more minority students, especially those playing our highest-profile sport, earn a degree that will help them long after their athletics career is over.”
A longer view
A long-term look at the GSR illustrates just how substantial the increases have been over the past 15 years, particularly among African-American and Hispanic student-athletes.
African-American male student-athletes have increased their GSR by 19 percentage points to 70 percent during this time. African-American females improved their rate 13 points to 84 percent over that same time. Hispanic student-athletes have seen their GSR increase 18 points to 82 percent.
For all Division I student-athletes, the rate increased 12 percentage points in that time.
GSR increases for minorities in specific sports have been impressive as well. In addition to the 31-point GSR increase for African-American men’s basketball student-athletes since the rate began, African-American football student-athletes who play in the Football Bowl Subdivision have raised their rates 17 points, to 76 percent.
White men’s basketball players also performed well, raising their rate from 76 percent to 94 percent over the 15 years.
NCAA leaders emphasized the direct human impact that academic reforms have made over the past 15 years: 19,496 more student-athletes have graduated from college than would have if the GSR had remained at 74 percent. That was the rate for the class that entered in 1995, the first year for the new measure.
“The purpose of increasing academic standards, maintaining an academic performance program and tracking the academic successes of our students is to keep more college athletes on track to graduate. These numbers – nearly 20,000 additional graduates because of the NCAA’s academic policies – show that the policies are working and students are responding to the challenge,” said Roderick J. McDavis, chair of the Division I Committee on Academics and president of Ohio University. “Student-athletes continue to earn degrees at a record-high rate, and that’s something to celebrate.”
Comparison with the student body
The Division I Board of Directors created the GSR in response to Division I college and university presidents who wanted data that more accurately reflected the mobility of college students than the federal graduation rate. The federal rate counts any student who leaves a school as an academic failure, no matter whether he or she enrolls at another school. Also, the federal rate does not recognize students who enter school as transfer students.
The GSR formula removes from the rate student-athletes who leave school while academically eligible and includes student-athletes who transfer to a school after initially enrolling elsewhere. This calculation makes it a more complete and accurate look at student-athlete success.
The rate also allows for a deeper understanding of graduation success in individual sports than the federal metric, which provides only broad groupings.
The federal graduation rate, however, remains the only measure to compare student-athletes with the general student body. Using the federal graduation rate, Division I student-athletes overall graduate at the same rate as the student body. Student-athletes declined 1 percentage point in the federal rate while the student body increased 1 point.
African-American student-athletes, both men and women, outperform their peers in the student body by wide margins. African-American male college athletes earned a federal graduation rate 11 percentage points higher than African-American men in the student body (52 percent to 41 percent). For African-American female student-athletes, the difference is 17 percentage points (66 percent to 49 percent).
“Division I student-athletes have attained extraordinary academic success over the last 15 years. They continue to graduate at rates equal to or higher than the student body,” Emmert said. “Every time standards rise, college athletes meet the challenge and continue to do well, especially minority student-athletes who outpace their peers in the general student body by an enormous amount. We’d like the federal rate to increase, and everyone in higher education has a responsibility to work toward improved graduation rates for all students.”
In Division II and Division III, student-athletes continue to outpace their peers in the student body. In Division II, the difference was 7 percentage points (56 percent for student-athletes and 49 percent for the student body). The difference was 4 points in Division III (68 percent for student-athletes and 64 for the student body).
Federal rates also provide a long-term picture of student-athlete academic achievement. The federal rate was first collected with the class that entered college in 1984, and the rate has continued to rise over the past 25 years. When rates were first collected, the general student body achieved degrees at a rate higher than student-athletes.
The rate for all Division I college athletes increased 14 points in that time. The class of African-American student-athletes who entered in 1984 graduated at a 35 percent rate, per the federal calculation. That rate is now 57 percent for the 2009 entering class. The men’s basketball rate increased 8 points in that time, and the Football Bowl Subdivision rates rose 15 points.
Division II student-athletes have maintained steady graduation rates, according to the most recent NCAA Academic Success Rate data.
Division II’s ASR is similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate in that it includes transfers into a school in the calculation but removes students who left school while academically eligible. Because of the division’s partial scholarship financial aid model, the ASR also includes the more than 36,000 nonscholarship student-athletes who enrolled from 2006 through 2009, the four years covered in the most recent data.
The Division II national four-year average ASR stayed the same at 71 percent, and the single-year ASR for the 2009 cohort remained the same at 72 percent. Four-year ASRs increased for seven men’s sports and 11 women’s sports. An additional eight sports’ rates held steady when compared with the previous rolling four-year period.
“In the past 11 years of ASR data collection, we have seen tremendous growth in the academic success of student-athletes across Division II,” said Terri Steeb Gronau, vice president of Division II. “We are proud that our student-athletes maintain excellent graduation rates while enjoying the balanced athletics experiences that Division II schools provide.”
Even when using the less-inclusive federal rate, Division II student-athletes outperform the general student body. The federal rate for student-athletes entering college in 2009 increased by 1 point to 56 percent, while the federal rate for the overall student body held steady at 49 percent.
Now in its seventh year of voluntary data collection, Division III’s Academic Success Rate is similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate and Division II’s ASR in that it includes transfers in the calculation but removes students who left school while academically eligible.
The Division III national four-year average ASR held steady at 87 percent, based on a representative sample of 193 schools participating in the voluntary reporting program in the 2015-16 academic year.
Even when using the less-inclusive federal rate, Division III student-athletes again perform better than the general student body. The four-class average federal rate for athletes was 69 percent and the federal rate for the overall student body was 62 percent.
“The continued high graduation rates for Division III student-athletes indicate that our students and schools are as committed to academic excellence as they are to athletics achievements,” said Dan Dutcher, vice president of Division III. “More and more schools are participating every year, which helps us have even greater confidence in the outstanding academic performance of Division III student-athletes.”
Division III operates on a voluntary academic reporting system. More than half of Division III member schools have participated during this voluntary data collection program. The 193 schools that participated in the voluntary reporting program in the 2015-16 academic year represent an increase of 47 schools compared with the previous year and the highest participation to date.