Because the ultimate goal of the college experience is graduation, the NCAA has devoted attention to researching student-athlete graduation rates for more than two decades.
All colleges and universities are required by NCAA legislation and federal law (the Student Right-to-Know act from 1990) to report student graduation rates, and those institutions offering athletics aid are required to report for their student-athletes as well. The NCAA acquires student-athlete graduation rate data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Post-Secondary Data System Graduation Rate Survey (IPEDS-GRS).
The student-athlete graduation rate calculated directly based on IPEDS-GRS (which is the methodology the U.S. Department of Education requires) is the proportion of first-year, full-time student-athletes who entered a school on athletics aid and graduated from that institution within six years. This federal rate does not account for students who transfer from their original institution and graduate elsewhere; they are considered non-graduates at both the college they left and the one from which they eventually graduate.
NCAA members, particularly presidents and chancellors, asked the NCAA in the early 2000s to develop a measure of student-athlete graduation success that more accurately reflects modern-day patterns of student enrollment and transfer. As a result, the NCAA created the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for Division I and the Academic Success Rate (ASR) for Division II.
Read How graduation rates are calculated (.pdf)
The NCAA GSR differs from the federal calculation in two important ways. First, the GSR holds colleges accountable for those student-athletes who transfer into their school. Second, the GSR does not penalize colleges whose student-athletes transfer in good academic standing. Essentially, those student-athletes are moved into another college’s cohort. The Division II ASR additionally includes student-athletes who did not receive athletics aid, but did participate in athletics.
Because Division III institutions do not award athletics scholarships, they are not required to report rates for student-athletes. However, the NCAA has developed an ASR for Division III and has encouraged those schools to report data for their student-athletes on a voluntary basis.