INDIANAPOLIS -- More than eight out of every 10 Division I student-athletes are earning their college degrees within six years, the highest marks ever for graduation, according to the most recent NCAA figures.

The single-year Graduation Success Rate for student-athletes who began college in 2004 is 82 percent, a new high for the NCAA, three points higher than last year and eight points higher than when GSR collection began a decade ago.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the GSR for the last four graduating classes (2001-2004) has hit 80 percent as well, a new high for Division I athletics and one point higher than the last four-year average.

“Academic reform is working. Students are better prepared when they enter college, and they are staying on track to earn their degrees,” Emmert said. “Some doubted our efforts, but the resolve of our presidents is strong, and we are reaping the fruit of several years of hard work.”

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The NCAA developed the Graduation Success Rate to more accurately assess the academic success of student-athletes. The rate holds institutions accountable for transfer students, unlike the federal graduation rate. The GSR also accounts for midyear enrollees and is calculated for every sport.

Under the calculation, institutions are not penalized for outgoing transfer students who leave in good academic standing.  The outgoing transfers are included in the receiving institution’s GSR cohort.
By counting incoming transfer students and midyear enrollees, the GSR increases the total number of student-athletes tracked for graduation by 37 percent.

The most recent Division I Graduation Success Rates are based on the four entering classes from 2001-2002 through 2004-05. Nearly 105,000 student-athletes are included in the most recent four classes using the GSR methodology, as compared to about 76,500 in the federal rate.
The NCAA began compiling these figures with the entering freshmen class of 1995.

Emmert noted that progress is still needed. While the GSRs for men’s basketball and football continue to improve over time, they are still the lowest of all sports and have yet to reach 70 percent, he said.

“We cannot become complacent,” Emmert said. “Our work is not done.”

Even when measuring student-athlete success using the less-accurate federal graduation rate, Division I student-athletes who began college in 2004 graduated at a 65 percent rate, also the highest ever and two points higher than the general student body.

The federal rate for student-athletes has climbed five points in the past 10 years and 13 points since 1984, when it was first calculated. Although not as precise as the NCAA’s rate, it is the only measure to compare student-athlete graduation with the general student body.

The NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate includes transfer students and student-athletes who leave in good academic standing, unlike the federal rate, which does not count transfers. The GSR and federal rate calculations measure graduation over six years from initial college enrollment.

Men’s basketball continues to show improvement, Emmert said. The single-year GSR for men’s basketball (68 percent) is up two points from last year and up 12 points throughout the 10-year period of GSR. Although the federal rate declined by two points in men’s basketball, Emmert said that likely is due to the many transfers in the sport.

Emmert noted that football’s GSR in the Football Bowl Subdivision remains steady compared to last year and for the four-year average. The rate has climbed for football student-athletes competing in the Football Championship Subdivision, in part because of the inclusion of Ivy League institutions in the GSR calculation (they are not included in the federal rate).

African-American student-athletes overall and in men’s basketball have increased their GSRs as well, Emmert said. The single-year GSR for African-American student-athletes is up two points up from last year and up one point for African-American men’s basketball players.

Over time, the GSR for men’s basketball players has climbed 15 points in 10 years, to 61 percent, the highest ever for the sport. In football, the GSR for African-American student-athletes remained level but is up eight points over the 10-year period.

Emmert said that increased academic standards have resulted in tangible success for minority student-athletes. There are approximately 400 more African-American student-athletes in the latest cohort, and about 400 more African-American student-athlete graduates compared to last year.

“Success for student-athletes is ultimately measured by how well they do in the classroom,” said Emmert. “There is room for greater progress, and we continue to work hard to that end, but today we celebrate this important milestone.”

Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford, stressed that the latest classroom success is a result of the groundbreaking academic reform movement of the past decade.

Moving forward, academic success will be defined by sustained and increased expectations for all student-athletes, he emphasized. 

He said that proposed increased standards for initial eligibility, potential changes in transfer regulations for two-year college students and overall greater standards for students and teams will not only signal but also strengthen the expectation that student-athletes are students first.

“I am excited about the progress so far, and I look forward to continuing to watching more and more student-athletes earn their college degrees each year,” Harrison said.

Key findings from the graduation-rate data include the following:

Overall Findings
GSR for entering class of 2004: 82 percent
• GSR for entering classes of 2001-2004: 80 percent
• 2001-2004 GSR for male student-athletes: 73 percent
• 2001-2004 GSR for female student-athletes: 88 percent
• Federal graduation rate for student-athletes who started college in 2004: 65 percent
• Federal graduation rate for general students who started college in 2004: 63 percent

Men’s Basketball
GSR for entering class of 2004: 68 percent
• GSR for entering classes of 2001-2004: 66 percent
• Federal graduation rate for 2004 entering class: 45 percent

Women’s Basketball
GSR for entering class of 2004: 86 percent
• GSR for entering classes of 2001-2004: 84 percent
• Federal graduation rate for 2004 entering class: 63 percent

GSR for entering class of 2004: 77 percent
• GSR for entering classes of 2001-2004: 72 percent
• Federal graduation rate for 2004 entering class: 48 percent

Football Bowl Subdivision
GSR for entering class of 2004: 69 percent
• GSR for entering classes of 2001-2004: 67 percent
• Federal graduation rate for 2004 entering class: 56 percent

The NCAA also has released the latest Division II graduation rate data, including the division’s Academic Success Rate. This is the sixth year the NCAA has released the Division II ASR, which is similar to the Division I GSR and also includes student-athletes not receiving athletically related financial aid.

The latest figures show a 73 percent ASR for the Division II entering class of 2004, steady from the last year and still the highest rate to date. Even when using the less-inclusive federal rate, Division II student-athletes perform significantly better than the general student body. The federal rate for Division II student-athletes is 55 percent, down one point from last year but six percentage points higher than the overall student body at Division II colleges and universities.

Division III student-athletes are not covered by the federal graduation rate methodology, because it only includes student-athletes who receive athletics financial aid.  Therefore, the data for Division III are used to analyze graduation rates within the student bodies.  In all, students who entered Division III institutions in the fall of 2004 showed a federal graduation rate of 65 percent, while the latest four-year average is 63 percent.

The Division III Presidents Council in 2009 approved exploring the possibility of calculating graduation rate and academic-success rates for Division III student-athletes. A two-year pilot program using graduation-rate data collected from volunteering institutions began in the spring of 2010. Findings will be presented at the NCAA Convention in January.