By Erik Christianson
Division I men’s basketball and Bowl Subdivision football student-athletes are finishing their college degrees at their highest rates ever.
And for the first time, the graduation rates in both high-profile sports have reached or exceeded 70 percent, according to the latest national figures from the NCAA.
In men’s basketball, the latest Graduation Success Rate has climbed to 74 percent, up 6 points from last year. In FBS football, the GSR has hit 70 percent, up 1 point.
These figures reflect GSRs for student-athletes who started college in 2005.
“Our academic reforms continue to bear fruit,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “We are not satisfied, but we are proud that we have reached another milestone, as now seven of every 10 student-athletes in our highest-profile sports are earning their degrees.”
Emmert noted that only 1.3 percent of men’s basketball student-athletes and 1.6 percent of football student-athletes go on to careers in professional athletics.
Men’s basketball and football traditionally have posted the lowest graduation rates among all sports. But in the 11 years since GSR data have been collected, men’s basketball is up 18 points – and is 21 points higher for African-American males in the sport. FBS football is up 7 points, and African-Americans in football have seen their GSR climb 9 percentage points.
The GSR for the last four graduating classes of all Division I student-athletes (2002-2005) remains at 80 percent, still an all-time high for the NCAA, Emmert said. The most recent one-year GSR for the 2005 class is 81 percent, down 1 point from last year. Most other sports remained steady or were down slightly in year-to-year comparisons (Download the 2012 GSR and Fed Trends PDF).
The overall GSR for the 2005 entering class is 7 points higher than the 1995 entering class.
The NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate includes transfer students and student-athletes who leave in good academic standing, unlike the federal graduation rate, which does not count transfers. The GSR and federal rate calculations measure graduation over six years from first-time college enrollment.
The federal graduation rate, while less inclusive than the GSR, provides the only measure of historic academic comparison between student-athletes and the general student body. By this standard, student-athletes consistently outperform nearly all their peers in the student body.
The latest data show that Division I student-athletes who entered college in 2005 equaled their highest federal graduation rate of 65 percent – 2 percentage points higher than the general student body at Division I institutions.
Every student-athlete group is graduating at rates higher than their peers except for white males, who are 1 point behind their counterparts in the student body under the federal rate.
“We are not satisfied, but we are proud that we have reached another milestone, as now seven out of every 10 student-athletes in our highest profile sports are earning their degrees.”
— Mark Emmert, NCAA president
Federal rates also provide a longer look at student-athlete academic achievement. They were first collected with the 1984 entering class, and in the past nearly quarter century there has been significant upward trending.
The overall federal graduation rate is up 13 points (from 52 percent), and the rate for African-American student-athletes jumped 19 points to 54 percent. African-American male student-athletes increased their federal rate 16 points to 49 percent, which is 10 points higher than African-American males in the student body. African-American female student-athletes increased their federal rate 19 points to 64 percent, outpacing their student body counterparts by 16 points.
Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the Division I Committee on Academic Performance, noted the important progress in academic achievement by student-athletes over time.
Harrison said there are 1,600 more student-athlete graduates from the most recent cohort compared to 1995 had the GSR stayed constant.
“This represents real lives impacted in a positive way,” Harrison said. “I am impressed with the increasing focus on academics on our campuses nationally. Indeed, we have moved from academic reform to expectation.”
Divisions II, III student-athletes perform well academically
The NCAA also released the latest Division II graduation rate data, including the division’s Academic Success Rate. This is the seventh year the NCAA has released the Division II ASR, which is similar to the Division I Graduation Success Rate and also includes student-athletes not receiving athletically related financial aid.
The latest figures show a 72 percent ASR for the latest four years of Division II student-athletes, remaining steady compared to last year. The most recent one-year rate for the entering class of 2005 is down 1point, to 72 percent.
Even when using the less-inclusive federal rate, Division II student-athletes perform significantly better than the general student body. The federal rate for Division II student-athletes is 55 percent, the same as last year and 7 points higher than the overall student body at Division II colleges and universities.
Division III, meanwhile, has collected three years of data on student-athlete academic success from institutions participating in a voluntary academic reporting program that the Division III Presidents Council authorized in 2009.
For the 128 schools reporting success rate data for the 2005 entering cohort, the Academic Success Rate for student-athletes was 88 percent (83 percent for men and 94 percent for women). Those ASR rates have been consistent among the three years of the voluntary reporting program in Division III.
The federal graduation rate for student-athletes at these pilot schools for the 2005 cohort was 67 percent, as compared to 63 percent for the student bodies at those same campuses.