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Feedback on DIII academic reporting begins making the rounds

By Gary Brown

Members of the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee will have ample input to work with when they convene via conference call Friday to begin deciding next steps on an academic reporting program that supports the division’s identity initiative.

The Strategic Planning and Finance Committee is the first stop in a governance structure command chain that will determine – with help from the membership – whether reporting should be required, what kind of data would be necessary, how often institutions need to submit it, and how the results could be used to benefit campuses, conferences and the division as a whole.

The committee will have at its disposal feedback from about 90 roundtables gathered at the Division III Issues Forum at the January Convention. The primary consensus from that session was that academic reporting in some form is good for the division. About 78 percent of the respondents believe data already gleaned from about 100 schools in a two-year pilot program corroborate the academic excellence purported in the Division III strategic-positioning platform.

Indeed, those data from the pilot showed what Division III members previously could only suspect: that division-wide, student-athlete graduation rates are higher than those of their student-body counterparts.

The NCAA has collected and reported graduation rates since 1991 for all students (using the six-year federal methodology) and for all student-athletes receiving athletically related financial aid. 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. 

But as the division developed its identity initiative that emphasized a proportioned experience for student-athletes that includes excellence in the classroom, the Division III Presidents Council decided to collect data to back that statement up. The voluntary pilot produced a representative sample of Division III schools showing student-athlete graduation rates about 3 to 4 percentage points higher than other students.

With good news in hand, the question the Presidents Council wants the membership to answer is how comprehensive – and how “mandatory” – future reporting should be.

The feedback from the roundtables suggests the data are useful, but the direction is less clear on how those data should be collected.

The following results are telling: 

  • About 78 percent believe the pilot results support the Division III philosophy statement and strategic-positioning platform, and 68 percent believe the pilot emphasizes the Division III story of academic and athletics proportion and excellence.
  • About 76 percent believe some sort of academic reporting would be relevant at the campus level, but only 34 percent think it would be relevant for conferences. Participants at the issues forum thought reporting could help individual schools recruit students and strengthen relationships with faculty, but they also worry it could be used to rank academic performance by conferences and thus create competition in a negative manner.
  • Only 49 percent felt that the benefits of the reporting are greater than the current burden to complete the report (that is, the time and finances required). However, at least a portion of that percentage may be attributable to misperceptions from members who did not participate in the pilot program or understand the existing reporting process. For example, concerns were expressed regarding the costs for Division III to establish an academic reporting infrastructure. However, the NCAA already has established a reporting system; thus, the division would not incur any additional expenses to participate in the process. Feedback from pilot participants also supported the utility and ease of use of the system and noted that NCAA staff provided valuable assistance when requested. Still, there was a prevailing sense from the issues forum that the NCAA should continue to streamline the reporting process and create a best-practices guide and standard method for collection.

Among concerns expressed about the actual data, forum participants were bothered that the current reporting method counts a student “forever,” even if that student competed for only one semester. Additional concerns were raised about tracking transfer students and dual-sport student-athletes.

The most divergent matter, though, appears to be the frequency of data submission and whether it should be mandatory. The roundtables produced no clear consensus on whether reporting should be an annually required, division-wide program or remain voluntary. A middle-ground suggestion that had some support was to connect the academic reporting to some other periodic reporting, such as the Institutional Self-Study Guide, as long as that could produce a representative sample of the division. However, many respondents said if the program was going to be effective, it would need to be required.

Division III Vice President Dan Dutcher said it appears clear – at least from the roundtables – that the division recognizes the value of the report and would support some type of ongoing academic reporting under the right circumstances. But those are the “detail devils” that need to be ferreted out.

“Academic reporting allows Division III to tell its unique story in a powerful way.  Members obviously see the usefulness of the good news such reporting produces,” Dutcher said. “However, how future reporting will look remains an open topic. In that regard, the governance structure and the staff welcome ideas from the membership that will allow us to produce a report that is meaningful, consistent and representative of the division as a whole, while at the same time minimizing the related administrative burden as much as possible.”

After the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee reviews the roundtable feedback, that group will send thoughts on to the Division III Management Council and Presidents Council for consideration in April. 

Meanwhile, while the two-year pilot has been completed, Division III schools will still be asked to submit academic data this year. Many already have expressed a desire to do so, and all are being asked to submit data to continue to give the Division III governance structure more data upon which to base future decisions about the utility and relevance of reporting.

“The good news is that the membership is engaging on this issue,” Dutcher said. “The issues forum certainly was a success in that regard.

“Academic success is a primary component of the Division III philosophy statement, as well as our strategic-positioning platform, and now we have some empirical data from the pilot to support it,” Dutcher said. “That’s a good story to tell, but it’s important that the membership sees the relevance of that story both locally and for the division as a whole. That’s what the discussions in the coming year will be all about.”

Depending on how those discussions go – and after gleaning more input from Division III members – legislation regarding future reporting could be on the docket at the 2013 Convention.