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DI African-American student-athletes graduate at record rates

Success for minorities helps push overall Graduation Success Rate to 87%

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick and Meghan Durham

Division I student-athletes in nearly all sports and demographics improved their graduation rates, most notably a 3 percentage point increase for African-Americans in all sports, which contributed to a record-high 87 percent Graduation Success Rate.

More than three-quarters of African-American college athletes — 77 percent — earned their degrees, up from 74 percent last year. The rate has risen 21 percentage points since 2002.

African-American men’s basketball players, who reached 77 percent GSR last year, are up another point to 78 percent in 2017. The GSR for African-American women’s basketball players increased 6 percentage points to 90 percent. Since 2002, the rate for African-American men’s basketball players has increased 32 points. The rate for African-American women’s basketball players is up 20 points in that timeframe.

Football student-athletes also show marked improvement. African-American Football Bowl Subdivision participants increased 3 percentage points to 73 percent, and that rate is up 20 points since 2002.

“Student-athletes are reaching their academic goals and earning degrees at record rates,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “The dramatic improvement in the graduation rate for African-American student-athletes in all sports is a significant achievement, and our student-athletes and member schools should be proud of the work they are doing. The goal of all the NCAA’s academic policies and programs is to prepare students for life after college, and graduation is integral to this success.”

Having a real impact

Academic reforms have directly influenced the number of students earning degrees: 22,632 more college athletes graduated over the past 15 years than would have had the GSR remained at 74 percent, which was the rate for the class that entered in 1995, the year the measure was introduced.

The increase accounts for 3,136 more graduates in 2017 alone.

“As colleges and universities, we have a responsibility to prepare our students to excel both on and off the field of play,” said John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University and chair of the Division I Committee on Academics. “This year's Graduation Success Rate is exceptional--the highest in history. Tracking this rate each year is critically important, helping us to measure our effectiveness in this responsibility and determine the most appropriate policies to ensure that all of our students have the support they need to be able to graduate.”

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 this measure, student-athletes graduate at a rate 2 percentage points higher than the general student body — 68 percent compared with 66 percent. The difference is most stark among African-American women. Student-athletes in this demographic outpace their peers in the student body by 18 percentage points — 67 percent for student-athletes compared with 49 percent 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 earned degrees at a rate higher than student-athletes.

The rate for all Division I college athletes increased 16 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 59 percent for the 2010 entering class. The rate among men’s basketball participants increased 10 points in that time, and the Football Bowl Subdivision rates rose 16 points.

Division II

Division II student-athletes have raised their 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 2007 through 2010, the four years covered in the most recent data.

The Division II national four-year average ASR increased 1 point to 72 percent, and the single-year ASR for the 2010 cohort held steady at 72 percent. Four-year ASRs increased for 11 men’s sports and eight women’s sports.

“Student-athletes in Division II continue to excel in the classroom, on the field of play and in their communities,” said Terri Steeb Gronau, vice president of Division II. “These increased graduation rates reflect the efforts of Division II student-athletes and schools to prepare students for success in life, and we are proud of their achievements.”

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 2010 held steady at 56 percent, while the federal rate for the overall student body increased 1 point to 50 percent. Every student-athlete demographic group also outperformed its student body counterpart.

The NCAA GSR (Division I) and ASR (Division II and Division III) were formed when presidents and chancellors in all three NCAA divisions called for the Association to develop a measure of graduation success that better reflects transfer patterns and the population of student-athletes in higher education. The GSR and ASR count transfer students, unlike the federal graduation rate, and the ASR includes nonscholarship student-athletes.

Division III

Division III schools continue to report outstanding Academic Success Rates, according to the most recent year of voluntary data collection.

Now in its eighth year of measuring graduation rates, 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 and accounts for students who left school while academically eligible.

The Division III national four-year average ASR stands at 87 percent, based on a representative sample of 200 schools participating in the voluntary reporting program in the 2016-17 academic year.

According to the less inclusive federal graduate rates, Division III student-athletes perform better than the general student body. The four-class average federal rate for athletes was 68 percent, and the federal rate for the overall student body was 62 percent.

“The year-to-year snapshots of academic performance that we see through the academic success rate indicate steadiness in the outstanding academic performances of Division III student-athletes,” said Dan Dutcher, vice president of Division III. “We are pleased with the increased participation by our member schools, and we commend them for their continued dedication to the academic and athletic successes of their 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, and 200 schools participated in the voluntary reporting program in the 2016-17 academic year, an increase of seven schools compared with the previous year and the highest participation to date. Moving forward, the Division III governance structure is discussing legislation requiring academic reporting, but such changes, if approved, would not occur before the 2019-20 academic year.