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DI student-athletes graduate at record high rates

Nearly nine out of every 10 DI college athletes earn degrees

More student-athletes than ever are graduating from college, according to the most recent Division I Graduation Success Rate data released today by the NCAA. The single-year rate for student-athletes who enrolled in college in 2012 increased 1 percentage point to 89%, the highest ever.

When the Graduation Success Rate was created nearly two decades ago, then-NCAA President Myles Brand set an aspirational goal of 80%. Student-athletes first surpassed that goal with the release of the rates in 2011.

“College athletes continue to meet and exceed the benchmarks set for academic achievement,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “They have surpassed the original goal by nearly 10 percentage points, a phenomenal achievement that highlights the commitment these students have to succeed in all areas of life.”

An increase in the Football Bowl Subdivision GSR to an all-time high 82%, up from 79%, helped boost the overall rate. Black FBS student-athletes increased their GSR by 3 percentage points to 78%.

Football Championship Subdivision teams (78%) and women’s basketball teams (91%) both held steady at their all-time high rates. In men’s basketball, the overall rate dropped by 2 percentage points to 83%. Black men’s basketball student-athletes had a 79% graduation success rate, down 3 percentage points from last year’s 82%.

Female student-athletes continue to demonstrate academic success — no women’s sport earned a GSR below 90%, a first. The GSR for black student-athletes remained the same at 79%.

The data released today reflect the six-year graduation rates for college athletes who entered school in 2012.

Effecting real change

Academic rule and policy changes made by Division I members have directly impacted the number of students earning degrees: Over the past 18 years, 29,633 more college athletes graduated than would have had the GSR remained at 74%, the GSR the year it was introduced.

In 2019 alone, the increase accounts for 3,652 additional student-athlete graduates.

“Our students engaged in intercollegiate athletics continue to demonstrate excellence in both athletics and academics. These numbers — nearly 30,000 additional graduates because of the NCAA’s academic policies — show that our work is vital,” said John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown and chair of the Division I Committee on Academics. “We are using this year to examine the Academic Performance Program, and we strive to make changes that will support and prepare our students as they work toward graduation.”

Comparison with the student body

The Division I Board of Directors created the GSR in 2002 in response to Division I college and university presidents who wanted data that more accurately reflected the mobility of college students beyond what the federal graduation rate measures. The federal rate counts as an academic failure any student who leaves a school, 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 provides a more accurate appraisal of 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 the same rate as the student body: 68%. Student-athletes’ federal graduation rate stayed the same between last year and this year, while the student body rate increased 2 percentage points.

In all major demographic groups except for white males, student-athletes graduate at higher rates than their peers in the student body. Black male student-athletes had a 57% federal graduation rate, while 42% of black males in the student body graduated. Black female student-athletes also outpace their counterparts in the student body by 15 percentage points (67% to 52%).

Even though the rates in men’s basketball and FBS football trail the rates for all males in the student body, the rates for black student-athletes in those sports are higher than black males in the student body by 4 percentage points in basketball and 11 percentage points in FBS football.

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 28 years. When rates were first collected, the general student body earned degrees at a rate higher than that of student-athletes.

The rate for all Division I college athletes has increased 16 points in that time. The class of black student-athletes who entered in 1984 graduated at a 35 percent rate, per the federal calculation. That rate is now 60 percent for the 2012 entering class.

Funding based on academics

This announcement marks the first release of data that will be used to determine whether a school qualifies for the new academic distribution in Division I.

Each school can earn one academic achievement unit per year if its student-athletes meet at least one of the following requirements:  

  • Earn an overall, single-year, all-sport Academic Progress Rate of 985 or higher.
  • Earn an overall, all-sport, single-year Graduation Success Rate of 90 percent or higher.
  • Earn a federal graduation rate that is at least 13 percentage points higher than the federal graduation rate of the student body at that school.

Money will be distributed to the conferences in summer 2020 with no restrictions on how it is spent.

Division II student-athletes increase single-year rates to all-time high

According to the most recent Academic Success Rate data, Division II graduation rates have held steady at 73%.

Similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate, the Division II ASR calculation includes transfers into a school and removes students who left school while academically eligible. The ASR also includes the nearly 34,000 nonscholarship student-athletes who enrolled from 2009 through 2012, the four years covered in the most recent data.

While the Division II national four-year average ASR held steady at 73%, the single-year ASR for student-athletes who enrolled in 2012 increased 1 point to 75%, the highest ever for Division II. The single-year ASRs for men and women are both at all-time highs of 67% and 87%, respectively. Nine men’s sports and 11 women’s sports saw improvement in their four-year ASRs.

“The sustained high graduation rates demonstrate that Division II student-athletes are committed to well-rounded college experiences that include dedication to classroom success, and we applaud them for their achievements,” said Terri Steeb Gronau, NCAA vice president of Division II. “I also thank our Division II member schools for their continued dedication to providing college athletes with the opportunities to succeed in athletics, in academics and for life.”

Even when using the less inclusive federal graduation rates, student-athletes are outperforming their peers in the general student population, while selecting degree programs that largely mirror those chosen by the general student body. For Division II athletes who entered college in 2012, the federal rate soared 4 points, the division’s largest single-year increase, to a record-high 61%, while the general student body increased 2 points to 52%. Every student-athlete demographic also outperformed its counterpart in the general student body.

The NCAA GSR (Division I) and ASR (Divisions II and 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.

Division III student-athletes continue academic success

Division III schools continue to report outstanding Academic Success Rates, according to the most recent 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, as it includes transfers in the calculation and accounts for students who left school while academically eligible. Division III is now in its 10th year of collecting student-athlete graduation rates.

Based on a representative sample of 264 schools, the national four-year average ASR for Division III stands at 87%.

Even when using the less inclusive federal graduation rates, Division III student-athletes outperform their peers in the general student body. The four-class average federal rate for athletes was 67%, and the federal rate for the overall student body was 63%.

More than half of Division III member schools have participated during this voluntary data collection program. The 264 schools that participated in the voluntary reporting program in the 2018-19 academic year represent the highest participation to date. Thirty-six schools provided data for the first time this past academic year.

 “The snapshots of academic performance we see through the ASR each year affirm that our student-athletes are excelling academically,” said Dan Dutcher, vice president of Division III. “We look forward to all Division III schools participating in the reporting program and to the insights we will gain from the comprehensive report. Further, we applaud our members for their ongoing work to support the lifelong success of student-athletes.”

This is the last year Division III will collect student-athlete graduation rates on a voluntary basis. At the 2019 NCAA Convention, the Division III membership passed a proposal requiring all schools to submit student-athlete graduation rates data to the NCAA on an annual basis. The data collection for the 2020 Graduation Rates Report will begin in March, and the division will provide educational outreach to help its membership transition to the new data submission process.