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DIII looks at requiring schools to submit student-athlete grad rates

Better data might lead to best practices, helping more student-athletes join the ranks of graduates. Here, Wooster’s Dyese Osaze receives her diploma in 2017. Matt Dilyard / The College of Wooster

Retention rates of football players and African-American student-athletes in Division III have lagged behind those of their counterparts for eight consecutive years, according to the division’s voluntarily reported student-athlete graduation rate data. The trend suggests the division should take steps — such as offering best practices or crafting legislation — to help those groups.

2017 Division III student-athlete graduation rate (voluntary reporting)
  • 443 total active schools in Division III 
  • 278 schools have reported data at some point in the last four years
  • 200 schools provided data in the 2017 reporting cycle
  • 25 schools provided data for the first time in 2017
Four-class-average federal graduation rates as of the 2017 report (voluntary reporting)
  • Overall student-athletes: 68%
  • Football student-athletes: 51%
  • African-American student-athletes: 46%

But a key question hangs over any decision: Is that data comprehensive enough to inform policy decisions and best practices? Only about 40 percent of the membership submits student-athlete graduation metrics on an annual basis. To ensure it has a comprehensive understanding, the Division III Diversity and Inclusion Working Group has proposed the division adopt mandatory student-athlete graduation rate reporting for all schools — the type of  reporting already required in Divisions I and II.

“The data we have is somewhat incomplete,” says Nnenna Akotaobi, Swarthmore associate athletics director and Diversity and Inclusion Working Group member. “It became unclear to us whether we had a full picture of what was occurring within our division.”

The working group feels mandatory reporting would permit it to develop evidence-based best practices that might improve graduation rates among subsets of student-athletes and enhance the data available to members as part of the NCAA Institutional Performance Program. The working group also is hopeful that mandatory reporting would enable the division to better articulate the benefits of its academics-first philosophy by demonstrating that its student-athletes graduate at the highest rates in the NCAA.

The Division III Management and Presidents Councils will review the mandatory reporting recommendation this spring and, pending their approval, the legislation could be subject to a membership vote at the 2019 NCAA Convention. If adopted, schools would be required to report student-athlete graduation rates by July 1 every year. Individual school data would not be released, though an annual divisionwide aggregate report would be publicly available. The Institutional Performance Program would allow institutions to privately review their own data and conduct a self-assessment.  Most importantly, the data would inform recommendations from relevant committees.

“We want to be more data-driven,” says Jeff Docking, Adrian president and Division III Presidents Council chair. “We feel like this is worth it because it gives us good, solid data that we can use to evaluate the most important thing  ...  which is to get kids to graduate.”

The working group sought feedback on the concept at the Management Council’s January meeting. The Management Council expressed informal support, though several members cautioned against adding more work to often overburdened administrative staffs.

Others voiced concern about the penalties for noncompliance: What would be fair? How would the division enforce the new rule? The working group has proposed that schools that don’t submit the data would be ineligible to compete in championships during the following academic year, which is the current consequence for not submitting the annual mandatory student body graduation rates.

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