Tracking student-athlete graduation success in Division III is different than in Divisions I and II, essentially because of the primary tenet of the Division III philosophy that calls for student-athletes to be treated the same as all other students in every facet of their educational experience. As such, student-athletes in Division III do not receive athletics-based financial aid and they are not subject to division-wide initial-eligibility standards, among other things.
Because Division III student-athletes do not receive athletics-based aid, which is an essential trigger in collecting graduation rates at the Division I level, Division III schools are not required to report rates specifically for student-athletes, although they still must fulfill the federal reporting requirement for the student body.
In the mid-2000s, however, as Division III faced rapid membership growth and withstood a membership vote to either create a new division or subdivide the existing one, Division III embarked on an identity initiative to define itself more than just “the division that doesn’t grant athletics scholarships.”
Part of that effort was to define what Division III stood for academically. Until then it was just assumed that Division III student-athletes did as well as their student peers in the classroom, but as the identity initiative gained steam, presidents and chancellors began seeking data upon which to make that claim.
That’s when the NCAA developed an Academic Success Rate for Division III. The ASR for Division III is similar to the metric used for Division II, because it doesn’t rely on the student-athlete receiving athletics-based aid as the mechanism for being counted. As such, though, the success and accuracy of the ASR in Division III relies on the schools being willing to provide the information (since it goes beyond their federal obligation). In accordance with the Division III philosophy, there’s no legislative requirement for Division III schools to submit these data.
However, the Division III Presidents Council was interested enough to collect the data that it encouraged Division III institutions to participate in a two-year pilot program to track the entering classes of 2003 and 2004. Part of the premise was that it was likely that student-athletes were “out-graduating” their student-body peers – just as they do in Divisions I and II – and that DIII schools could reap the publicity benefit for saying so.
The results of the two-year pilot did not disappoint. First of all, enough institutions participated to provide a representative sample of the division – that is, the pool of schools submitting data was proportionate to the makeup of the division as far as public/private, enrollment size and geographic location was concerned. Second, the data did indeed reflect student-athlete graduation rates higher than those of the student bodies at those schools. While the federal rate already indicated this to a degree, the new ASR compilation for the schools in the two-year pilot revealed rates of 89 percent and 87 percent, respectively – 23 points higher than the federal rate for the 2003 class and 19 points higher than the federal rate for the 2004 class. The latest information available is highly similar with the ASR for the 2009 class at 87 percent, 18 points higher than the federal rate.
To date, Division III has not moved to make graduation-rate collection for student-athletes a division-wide policy. For now, submissions continue to be voluntary. With the collection of data for the 2009 class, 253 schools, more than half of the Division III membership, has participated in the program at some point. Individual participating schools now receive program-generated reports to allow them to compare the student-athletes and other students on their campus. A report that aggregates the rates across all participating schools is now produced as well. Ongoing analysis and reporting of findings highlighting the success of Division III student-athletes and identifying potential areas of concern is occurring. This information is shared regularly with groups such as the Presidents Council, Management Council, Strategic Planning and Finance Committee and the Faculty Athletics Representative Association. While the current momentum has not resulted in division-wide policy change, key stakeholders are regularly engaged in dialog related to a core tenet of the division’s philosophy – the academic success of our student-athletes.