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By Gary Brown
Data from the first year of a two-year pilot program in Division III to assess student-athlete academic performance reveals that student-athletes are graduating at rates comparable with or higher than those of their student body counterparts.
|All DIII schools||Pilot schools|
|Number of schools||444||115|
|Avg. sports sponsorship||17||17|
|Proportion of athletes to undergraduate enrollment||21%||21%|
|Overall student body federal grad rate||65%||63%|
|Female student body federal grad rate||68%||67%|
|Male student body
federal grad rate
A total of 115 Division III schools voluntarily submitted graduation-rates data in the first year of the pilot. Results from this representative, division-wide sample showed that 66 percent of student-athletes who enrolled as freshmen in 2003 graduated within six years (the same methodology used to calculate federal graduation rates in Divisions I and II). That compares favorably with the 65 percent graduation rate for the general student body at the 444 active and provisional Division III member schools.
The Division III rate also compares well with federal graduation rates for the most recent cohorts in Division I (64 percent for student-athletes; 63 percent for the student body) and Division II (56 percent for student-athletes; 47 percent for the student body).
It is the first time that Division III has gathered graduation-rate data at this scale. The NCAA has collected and reported graduation-rates data for all students (using the six-year federal methodology) and for all student-athletes receiving athletically related financial aid since 1991. While Division III students have been included in this process, a separate report on student-athletes in Division III has been absent because the division does not award athletics grants-in-aid.
The Division III Presidents Council authorized the pilot to obtain empirical data to support the portion of the Division III philosophy statement that reads: “Assure that academic performance of student-athletes is, at a minimum, consistent with that of the general student body.” Division III’s identity initiative launched last year, which incorporates “comprehensive learning” and “proportion” as key attributes of the Division III student-athlete experience, also prompted the effort.
To accommodate reporting for the pilot, student-athletes were defined as those listed on the institution’s official roster on or after the first scheduled date of competition in the respective sport’s championship segment during the first year of enrollment.
A total of 134 institutions (30 percent of the division membership) provided at least some level of data, though the report incorporates the 115 that submitted complete information.
“The purpose of the pilot was twofold,” said Widener University President Jim Harris, who chairs the Presidents Council through the 2011 Convention. “One was to determine the level of burden on institutions to provide these data in the first place, and two was to determine whether the findings would be relevant and useful in helping schools track the academic success of their student-athletes.
“It appears from this first report that the reactions to those premises are ‘The burden isn’t as much as we thought’ and ‘Yes, the data are quite useful.’ ”
In addition to calculating graduation rates using the federal methodology, the Division III pilot report also calculated an “Academic Success Rate” that takes transfer student-athletes into account. In the Division III ASR, student-athletes who left the institution but would have been academically eligible to compete had they stayed are removed from the cohort.
Data from the pilot schools show an ASR for student-athletes at 89 percent (85 percent for men and 95 percent for women).
Divisions I and II also have academic success rate calculations. Division I’s “Graduation Success Rate” began in 2004 after university presidents and chancellors asked for a graduation-rate collection that more accurately reflected the movement among students and student-athletes in higher education.
Division II followed in 2005 with its own version of an Academic Success Rate that differs from Division I’s GSR in that it includes non-scholarship student-athletes (which because of Division II’s partial-scholarship model represent a significant portion of the student-athlete population in that division).
Division I’s most recent GSR is 79 percent, while Division II’s most recent ASR is 73 percent.
The ASR methodology in Division III is slightly different than for Divisions I and II because those divisions have national eligibility standards that better define what it means to be “in good academic standing.” Because athletics eligibility in Division III is determined by each institution rather than by division-wide criteria, what it takes to be “in good academic standing” varies by school.
The Division III ASR in the first year of the pilot also doesn’t account for transfers into the institution. That component is expected to be requested in year two of the pilot now that institutions are more familiar with the reporting process.
Division III Vice President Dan Dutcher said while the findings from the first year of the pilot reflect positively on student-athlete academic achievement – an outcome that most people in the division expected – the fact that such a representative sample of Division III institutions participated may be the bigger news. He hopes that even more institutions will participate in the second year of reporting.
“We wanted to determine whether the collection was viable. We needed to assess the level of burden and the relevance and utility of the data,” Dutcher said. “What we found is that while this type of reporting does indeed require a time commitment at the institutional level, the value of the data appears to outweigh the burden required to gather them. Year two of the pilot will help make that determination.”
Harris said while most institutions track student-athlete academic success at some level, the division would benefit from a more comprehensive approach, particularly since the division’s strategic-positioning platform relies so heavily on academic achievement. “Among the reasons for doing this is to prove that what we say in our platform is true,” he said.
Whether the Division III Presidents Council recommends a more robust reporting in the long term won’t be determined until after the second year of the pilot is completed. Those data are expected to be ready for the Council’s October 2011 meeting, which would also prompt further review and discussion at the 2012 NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.
Other findings from the first-year report: