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Opinions vary on academic reporting in DIII

By Gary Brown

Conversation about the future of academic reporting in Division III at Friday’s issues forum was as diverse as the division itself.

Hundreds of Division III representatives talked about what to do with an academic reporting pilot that so far has validated what previously had been assumed – that student-athletes graduate at rates comparable with or better than students in general.

The packed ballroom addressed three issues:

  • Do the results from the pilot help tell the Division III story?
  • If so, is the value worth the burden of collecting the data?
  • If yes, then should that collection be from an annual, division-wide approach, or something perhaps less frequent or more voluntary?

Western Connecticut State President Jim Schmotter, who ran the forum discussion as vice chair of the Presidents Council and member of an academic reporting working group that oversaw the pilot, didn’t need to prompt the audience for feedback.

About 100 roundtables talked about each question sequentially and reported results. It didn’t take long for participants to hear that there was value in touting student-athlete academic success but confusion about how to apply it to the division’s collective benefit.

When all was said and done, there didn’t appear to be momentum on requiring an annual report from every institution. At the same time, there wasn’t a sense that no reporting at all was the way to go.

The resulting “somewhere between those extremes” seemed to be support for a periodic reporting for which use of the results would be more clearly defined.

The expected concern about the “administrative burden” of compiling the data was present, but many in the room said that burden was minimal, and that the desire to have the data far outweighed whatever challenge it was to provide them. Others acknowledged that the NCAA’s Graduation Rates Data Collection System gives schools what they need in terms of a standard methodology.

For those in the audience who did think there was some burden, one of the suggestions was for the NCAA to pursue conversations with campus software vendors to explore the feasibility of developing a more broadly applicable module that could mitigate existing concern.

As for the frequency of reporting, one idea that generated some crowd buzz was to incorporate academic reporting into the five-year cycle used for the Institutional Self-Study Guide, as long as that could guarantee a representative enough sample for the division to use as a national rate.

While the particulars of academic reporting won’t be decided until later, the forum did provide a range of suggestions. But the common theme was that there is interest in promoting the division’s academic success – one way or another.

One of the comments in that regard came from a SAAC member who said the data would be helpful to counter the misperception among some people about student-athlete academic performance. “These data help prove that student-athletes are academically successful,” he said, which earned applause from the room.


Selected comments from the forum

  • The pilot data help reinforce that we’re doing what we say we do – that we are graduating student-athletes at rates equal to or greater than the student body.
  • Yes, these data are important but it’s unclear about how they would be used. If it is to tell the DIII story, we already have information on campus to do that.
  • These days you have to prove what you say, but it’s a matter of how you do it. We talk about the identity – what is that? The NCAA touts its “going pro” message, and we should show that our kids are getting degrees and becoming productive citizens.
  • I worry that all these new initiatives are bringing us closer to having us look like the other divisions. You can say that’s not what your intent is, but the outcome of all these initiatives is to push us toward being like the others.
  • If we’re going to tell our story, we ought to do this aggressively. If the purpose is deemed necessary, then the burden isn’t a problem. But we’re not sure the purpose is necessary.
  • At the DIII level, the purpose of gathering the data is to validate the claim of academic success. I suggest a study that broadens the participation, but if the claim holds over two or three years, then allocate attention elsewhere.
  • I’m concerned about the notion of graduation being the sole measure of academic success. We need to look at the quality of education – a richer data set would be more burdensome but more beneficial.