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DIII graduation rates reflect student athlete success

By Gary Brown

Data from the third year of Division III’s voluntary academic reporting program released Thursday once again demonstrate that student-athletes in general graduate at higher rates than their student-body peers.

Of the 128 Division III schools submitting data for the entering cohort of 2005 (the most recent available under the six-year graduation-rates calculation), student-athletes at those schools graduated at a 68 percent rate, compared with the 62 percent rate of their student-body counterparts.

The 68 percent student-athlete rate from those schools also exceeds the overall 64 percent Division III student-body rate calculated from the federal reports that all institutions are required to submit annually on student graduation.

The Division III Academic Success Rate, which accounts for transfer outcomes, shows that 88 percent of Division III student-athletes at the 128 reporting schools graduated within six years of initial enrollment. The federal government does not compile a comparable figure for the general student body.

Reporting on student-athlete graduation rates is voluntary in Division III, which is why the sample from year to year does not match the total number of Division III institutions. However, because the reporting samples in the first three years of the program have been representative of the Division III membership (based on public/private, sport sponsorship, enrollment, federal graduation rates and other indicators), researchers believe the rates gleaned from those schools reflect the success in the division overall.

The NCAA has collected and reported graduation rates for students in all three divisions (using the six-year federal methodology) and for all student-athletes receiving athletically related financial aid since 1991, as required by the federal Student-Right-to-Know Act. While Division III students have been included in this process, a separate report on student-athletes in Division III has been absent because the division does not award athletics grants-in-aid.

Three years ago, though, the Division III Presidents Council authorized a two-year pilot reporting effort to collect data from schools that volunteered to submit them on the academic success of the student-athlete population.

Current Presidents Council chair Jim Schmotter of Western Connecticut State University said the Council asked for those data in part to align with the Division III philosophy statement, and the related identity initiative that was being launched at the time. The statement specifies that student-athletes should graduate at rates that are comparable, if not higher, than their student-body counterparts.

“We had always assumed that was the case but we did not have the empirical research to back it up,” Schmotter said. “Now we do.”

As is the case with graduation-rate data compilations in Divisions I and II, the Division III version includes an “Academic Success Rate” that more accurately describes the graduation success of student-athletes. The Academic Success Rate, similar to the Graduation Success Rate calculation in Division I and the Academic Success Rate in Division II, counts student-athletes who transfer to an institution and doesn’t count student-athletes who leave the school within six years while academically eligible.

Beyond the 88 percent overall ASR rate for the 128 Division III schools reporting for the 2005 entering cohort, ASRs for student-athletes at those schools was 83 percent for men and 94 percent for women. Those rates also have been consistent among the three years of the voluntary reporting program in Division III.

Presidents and chancellors in all three NCAA divisions called for the development of GSR/ASR methodology several years ago to provide an alternative to the federally mandated methodology that they believe does not accurately depict college student transfer patterns. The federally mandated methodology relies on the proportion of those students who enrolled as full-time, first-time freshmen who graduated from the same school within six years of initial enrollment.

The NCAA believes the GSR/ASR methodology provides a far more accurate snapshot of student-athlete success, but the Association has continued to track graduation rates through the federal methodology because it is the only one by which to compare student-athlete and student-body rates. The U.S. Department of Education has yet to adopt the GSR/ASR approach.

The two-year academic reporting pilot in Division III was designed and implemented to assess the feasibility of collecting and reporting on student-athlete graduation success. In reviewing the pilot and in gathering feedback from Division III members on the reporting process for both the federal rate and ASR calculations, the Division III Presidents Council has determined, for now at least, that the voluntary reporting process is adequate going forward because it produces a sample representative of the division as a whole.

“We have stopped short of a mandated annual report,” Schmotter said. “We have vetted this thoroughly with the membership and, to date, we are comfortable with continuing the voluntary nature of the report, since we continue to get enough representative data to give us a broad perspective on our student-athlete success.”

Over the two years of the pilot and the single year of continued voluntary reporting, 173 schools have submitted data, 79 of which submitted data in each of the three years. Forty-nine schools submitted data in two of the three years, while another 16 submitted data for the first time this year.

The Presidents Council will review all three years of the program more closely at its Oct. 30 meeting in Indianapolis. Because the program now has compiled three years of data, presidents for the first time will be able to conduct a more longitudinal review, including a look at rates in various sports and among several demographic categories. Preliminary data on how transfers affect rates also will be reviewed.