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Graduation Success Rate continues to climb

More student-athletes than ever are earning degrees

Highlights:
  • The Graduation Success Rate for Division I college athletes is now 86 percent – two points over last year and the highest rate ever.
  • The NCAA academic reforms have made an impact over the past 14 years, with 16,565 more student-athletes earning degrees than would have without the increases in GSR.
  • Student-athletes outperform their peers in the student body by two percent. The federal rate for Division I student-athletes rose one point to 67 percent, the highest rate ever. The student body federal graduation rate remained flat at 65 percent.
  • African-American student-athletes outperform their peers in the student body by an even greater percentage: 56 percent of African-American college athletes earned their degrees, compared with 47 percent of African-Americans in the student body.

The Graduation Success Rate for Division I college athletes has climbed to 86 percent – two points over last year and the highest rate ever.

“Student-athletes continue to make important gains in the classroom, and the NCAA and its member schools are thrilled with their success,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “We also are proud of the role academic reforms have played in helping students earn their degrees. We will continue to support rules and policies that encourage students to progress toward graduation.”

The rate increases, which measure students who began college in 2008, occurred across the board in a variety of categories, including gender, ethnic minority status and sport.

Men’s basketball student-athletes earned a 77 percent GSR, up three points from the class that entered in 2007. The rate for African-American students who play men’s basketball increased five points to 72 percent. Both the percentage and the points gained are all-time highs, and increases have continued as Division I members improve academic standards at all stages of a student’s career.

Women’s basketball student-athletes earned degrees at an 89-percent rate, a two-point increase, while female African-American student-athletes increased five points to 84 percent, another all-time high.

Football Bowl Subdivision college athletes graduated at a 75-percent rate, the same as the class that entered in 2007. Those who play in the Football Championship Subdivision increased their GSR by 4 points, from 72 percent to 76 percent.

The rate for white student-athletes increased 1 point to 90 percent, while African-American student-athletes earned a 3 point upturn to 73 percent.

Impact over time

The NCAA academic reforms have made an impact over the past 14 years, with 16,565 more student-athletes graduating from college than would have if the Graduation Success Rate had remained at 74 percent, the rate for the class that entered in 1995, the first year for the metric.

Since the inception of the GSR, major changes have occurred in the graduation success of African-American student-athletes. Over that span, the rate for African-American males rose 18 points to 69 percent. For females, the rate increased 12 points to 83 percent.

Certain sports have also seen notable increases: The GSR is up 21 points in men’s basketball and 12 points for football teams competing in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Since 1995, academic standards for Division I college athletes improved multiple times, with increases in initial eligibility standards, progress-toward-degree standards and the creation of the Academic Progress Rate, a more real-time mechanism to track a student-athlete’s academic success than graduation rates.

“The APR, the standards we’ve set for all of the different Division I members, are working. We are moving in the right direction,” said Roderick J. McDavis, president of Ohio University and chair of the Division I Committee on Academics. “Ultimately, the real significance of this is that more student-athletes are graduating from college, and that’s good news.”

The four-year GSR increased one point to 83 percent. The four-year rate is most important at the team level. The four-year rate allows for a larger sample size, which provides a better picture of academic success on teams with smaller squad sizes such as basketball.

Comparison with the student body

The Division I Board of Directors created GSR in 1995 in response to Division I college and university presidents who wanted a rate that more accurately reflected the mobility of college students than the federal graduation rate.

The GSR formula, intended to be a more complete and accurate look at student-athlete success, 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. The GSR also allows for a deeper understanding of graduation success in individual sports than the federal metric, which has broader groupings.

The federal graduation rate, however, remains the only metric that allows comparison between student-athletes and the general student body.

 When compared using the federal graduation rate, Division I student-athletes continue to outpace their peers in the student body. The federal rate for Division I student-athletes rose one point to 67 percent, the highest rate ever. The student body federal graduation rate remained flat at 65 percent.

When comparing different subgroups using the federal rate, college athletes perform better than or the same as their peers in every demographic category. White male student-athletes graduate at the same rate as white males in the student body.

African-American male and female student-athletes dramatically outperform their counterparts in the student body. African-American male students who participate in sports graduate 12 percentage points higher than the African-American male student body (53 percent compared to 41 percent). For African-American females, the difference is 13 points (63 percent for college athletes in that demographic and 50 percent for the corresponding demographic in the student body).

Federal rates also provide a longer-term picture of student-athlete academic achievement. The federal graduation rate was first collected with the class that entered college in 1984, and the rate has continued to rise over the last 25 years. When rates were first collected, student-athletes did not achieve degrees at as high a rate as the general student body.

The rate for all Division I college athletes has increased 15 points in that time and now exceeds that of the student body. The class of African-American student-athletes who entered in 1984 graduated at a 35-percent rate, according to the federal calculation; 56 percent of the 2008 entering class graduated. The men’s basketball rate increased nine points in that time, and Football Bowl Subdivision rates rose 14 points.

“What Division I student-athletes have achieved over the last two decades is remarkable,” said Dave Schnase, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “Our member representatives, especially those who have served on academic committees over the years, created meaningful standards that have achieved impressive results and, most important, more graduates.”

Division II

Division II student-athletes have maintained steady graduation rates, according to the most recent NCAA Academic Success Rate data.

Now in its 10th year of data collection, Division II’s Academic Success Rate is similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate: 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, Division II’s ASR also includes all nonscholarship freshman student-athletes (more than 35,000 student-athletes).

The Division II national four-year average ASR stayed the same at 71 percent, and the single-year ASR for the 2008 cohort remained the same at 72 percent. Four-year ASRs were level or increased for all but three men’s sports and three women’s sports.

“Division II student-athletes continue to achieve outstanding academic success,” said Terri Steeb Gronau, vice president of Division II. “We are proud of their accomplishments in their sports and in the classroom and applaud the efforts of Division II member schools who work tirelessly to provide strong, well-rounded college experiences for athletes.”

Even when using the less-inclusive federal rate, Division II student-athletes outperform the general student body. The federal rate for student-athletes remained the same at 55 percent, while the federal rate for the overall student body increased to 49 percent, a difference of six percentage points.

The Division I Graduation Success Rate and Divisions II and III Academic Success Rate 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.

Division III

Now in its sixth year of voluntary data collection, Division III’s ASR 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.

Based on a representative sample of 146 schools participating in the voluntary reporting program in the 2014-15 academic year, the Division III national four-year average ASR held steady at 87 percent.

Even when utilizing the less-inclusive federal rate, Division III student-athletes again perform better than the general student body. The federal rate for athletes was 69 percent, and the federal rate for the overall student body was 62 percent, a seven-point difference.

“Division III student-athletes are doing tremendous things in the classroom, as well as on the playing field and in community, and this report reflects that,” said Dan Dutcher, vice president of Division III.  “We are thrilled by their academic success, and the increasing participation of our member schools in providing this important reporting process.”

Division III operates on a voluntary academic reporting system. Nearly half of Division III member schools have participated during this voluntary data collection program, and 146 schools participated for 2014-15, the highest number to date.