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College athletes graduate at record high rates

Improvements among men’s basketball, football players contribute to increase

More Division I student-athletes than ever are earning their degrees, according to new Graduation Success Rate data released today. The most recent rate is 88 percent, a record high and an increase of 1 percentage point from 2017 numbers.

The overall single-year rate was boosted by increased rates among black student-athletes in all sports (up 2 percentage points to 79 percent), men’s basketball players (up 3 percentage points to 85 percent), Football Bowl Subdivision participants (up 1 percentage point to 79 percent) and Football Championship Subdivision participants (up 3 percentage points to 79 percent). Data released today reflect graduation numbers among student-athletes who entered school in 2011.

Black men’s basketball players, who reached an all-time high GSR of 78 percent last year, are up another 4 points in 2018 to 82 percent.

“Student-athletes continue to achieve academic success at record levels,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “When the GSR was created more than 15 years ago, the NCAA set an aspirational goal of 80 percent of student-athletes graduating. College athletes have met and exceeded that goal — as they often do with any challenge.

“Most significant is the number of black student-athletes who earn their degree,” Emmert continued. “As college graduates, they are much more likely to have successful careers after they leave school.”

Since 2002, the rate for black men’s basketball players has increased 36 points. The rate for black women’s basketball players is up 19 points in that time (to 89 percent).

Making a difference

Academic rule changes made by members have directly influenced the number of students earning degrees: Over the past 16 years, 25,981 more college athletes graduated than would have had the GSR remained at 74 percent, the rate the year the GSR was introduced.

In 2018 alone, the increase accounts for 3,349 additional student-athlete graduates.

“Students engaged in intercollegiate athletics continue to graduate at record high levels, demonstrating excellence both athletically and academically,” said John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown and chair of the Division I Committee on Academics. “Policy changes continue to help support and prepare our students as they work toward graduation. Measuring the graduation success of our students is vital to help us gauge our effectiveness of policies we discuss, consider and implement.”

Meaningful degrees

Earlier this year, the NCAA research department launched a tool to compare undergraduate degrees earned by college athletes with those conferred on the general student body. The Division I Diploma Dashboard also allows users to dissect data to compare contingents of student-athletes based on year of graduation, gender, race and, in some cases, sport.

The dashboard shows that Division I female student-athletes are about as likely to major in science, technology, engineering or math fields as their nonathlete peers. About 17 percent of female students as well as 16 percent of female student-athletes earned STEM degrees in 2016-17.

Additionally, as the Division I Committee on Academics has increased academic progress standards for student-athletes, those increased benchmarks have had little or no impact on the areas of study student-athletes choose to pursue. Over the past decade, the degrees awarded to student-athletes have followed similar trends to those in the student body.

Least surprising perhaps is the finding that college athletes are twice as likely to graduate with a degree related to athletics or fitness. In 2016-17, 6 percent of the degrees conferred to student-athletes in Division I were in fields such as kinesiology or fitness studies, compared with 3 percent of the general student body.

Comparison with the student body

The Division I Board of Directors created the GSR in response to Division I college and university presidents who wanted data that more accurately reflected the mobility of college students than the federal graduation rate did. The federal rate counts as an academic failure any student who leaves a school, no matter whether he or she enrolls at another school. Also, the federal rate does not recognize students who enter school as transfer students.

The GSR formula removes from the rate student-athletes who leave school while academically eligible and includes student-athletes who transfer to a school after initially enrolling elsewhere. This calculation provides a more accurate look at student-athlete success.

The rate also allows for a deeper understanding of graduation success in individual sports than the federal metric, which provides only broad groupings.

The federal graduation rate, however, remains the only measure to compare student-athletes with the general student body. Using this measure, student-athletes graduate at a rate 2 percentage points higher than the general student body — 68 percent compared with 66 percent. The difference is most stark among black women. Student-athletes in this demographic outpace their peers in the student body by 19 percentage points — 70 percent for student-athletes compared with 51 percent for the student body.

Federal rates also provide a long-term picture of student-athlete academic achievement. The federal rate was first collected with the class that entered college in 1984, and the rate has continued to rise over the past 28 years. When rates were first collected, the general student body earned degrees at a rate higher than student-athletes.

The rate for all Division I college athletes increased 16 points in that time. The class of black student-athletes who entered in 1984 graduated at a 35 percent rate, per the federal calculation. That rate is now 61 percent for the 2011 entering class.

Division II student-athlete graduation rates rise

Division II student-athlete graduation rates have increased, according to the most recent NCAA Academic Success Rate data.

Similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate, the Division II ASR includes transfers into a school in the calculation and removes students who left school while academically eligible. However, because of the division’s partial scholarship financial aid model, the ASR also includes the more than 35,000 nonscholarship student-athletes who enrolled from 2008 through 2011, the four years covered in the most recent data.

The Division II national four-year average ASR rose 1 point to 73 percent, while the single-year ASR for student-athletes who enrolled in 2011 increased 2 points to 74 percent. Three men’s sports and 11 women’s sports saw improvements in their four-year ASRs.

“Division II student-athletes continually exhibit their commitment to a well-rounded collegiate experience. They perform at high levels in the classroom, in athletics competition and while serving their communities,” said Terri Steeb Gronau, vice president of Division II. “We are proud of Division II student-athletes for continuing to strive for excellence in all that they do. We thank Division II member schools for the support they provide young people to prepare them for lifelong success.”

Student-athletes — whose chosen degree programs largely mirror trends seen in the full student body — also are outperforming their peers in the general student body, based on data from the less-inclusive federal graduation rates. The federal rate for student-athletes entering college in 2011 increased 1 point to 57 percent, while the general student body held steady at 50 percent. Every student-athlete demographic also outperformed their counterparts in the general student body.

The NCAA GSR (Division I) and ASR (Division II and Division III) were formed when presidents and chancellors in all three NCAA divisions called for the Association to develop a measure of graduation success that better reflects transfer patterns and the population of student-athletes in higher education.

Division III student-athletes continue academic success

Division III schools continue to report outstanding Academic Success Rates, according to the most recent year of voluntary data collection.

Division III’s Academic Success Rate is similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate and Division II’s ASR, as it includes transfers in the calculation and accounts for students who left school while academically eligible. Division III is now in its ninth year of collecting graduation rates.

Based on a representative sample of 213 schools, the national four-year average ASR for Division III stands at 86 percent.

Even when using the less inclusive federal graduation rates, Division III student-athletes outperform their peers in the general student body. The four-class average federal rate for athletes was 67 percent, and the federal rate for the overall student body was 64 percent.

“Every year, the snapshots of academic performance that we see through the ASR demonstrate that Division III student-athletes are excelling academically,” said Dan Dutcher, vice president of Division III. “We applaud Division III member schools for continuing to participate in the reporting program and, more importantly, for their ongoing work to support the lifelong success of student-athletes.”

Division III operates on a voluntary academic reporting system. More than half of Division III member schools have participated during this voluntary data collection program, and 213 schools participated in the voluntary reporting program in the 2017-18 academic year, the highest participation to date. At the 2019 NCAA Convention, Division III membership will vote on a proposal that would require all schools to submit student-athlete graduation rates data to the NCAA on an annual basis.