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Michelle Brutlag Hosick | | October 28, 2014

Student-athletes earning diplomas at record rate as Graduation Success Rate jumps

More student-athletes than ever are earning degrees at Division I schools. The most recent Graduation Success Rate data, collected for student-athletes who entered college in 2007, show 84 percent graduated within six years.

The rate is up 2 percentage points from the class that entered in 2006 and includes gains in virtually every demographic.

“Supporting student-athlete success in the classroom is at the heart of our Association, and today’s announcement shows progress toward that goal that is nothing short of remarkable,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “We are delighted to see a record percentage of student-athletes achieve graduation, the ultimate goal of entering college.”

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Trends in GSR and FGR at Division I schools

Football student-athletes in the Football Bowl Subdivision graduated at a 75 percent rate, a 4 percentage point increase. African-American Football Bowl Subdivision student-athletes increased their GSR four points.  The overall FBS rate represents an all-time high for the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Among student-athletes in men’s basketball and football, those who entered in 2007 increased their GSR over those who entered in 2006. Those who participate in men’s basketball raised their GSR from 73 to 74 percent, and student-athletes who compete in football at a Football Championship Subdivision school graduated at a 72 percent rate, nearly a three-point increase over the previous year’s entering class.

GSRs increased 3 percent among white male student-athletes and African-American student-athletes of both genders. White female student-athletes earned a 93 percent GSR, up two points from last year.

Since the NCAA began tracking GSR with the class of student-athletes who entered in 1995, the overall rate has increased 10 percentage points, which translates to nearly 14,000 more graduates than if the rate had stayed the same. In that same time period, academic standards for Division I student-athletes improved multiple times, with increases in initial eligibility standards, progress-toward-degree standards and the creation of the Academic Progress Rate, a more real-time mechanism to track a student-athlete’s academic success.

The increase is particularly meaningful to University of Hartford President Walter Harrison, who chaired the Committee on Academic Performance since its inception in 2003.

“If I had to think about what makes me proudest, it’s those students who graduated because of the Academic Performance Program,” Harrison said. “We gave those students an opportunity, and they took advantage of it. By and large, you have so greatly improved your life by having a college degree that for me, that is truly the greatest satisfaction.”

GSR was created in 1995 in response to Division I college and university presidents who wanted a rate that more accurately reflected the mobility of college students than the federal graduation rate.

The GSR formula, intended to be a more complete and accurate look at student-athlete success, removes from the rate student-athletes who leave school while academically eligible and includes student-athletes who transfer to a school after initial enrollment elsewhere. The federal graduation rate, however, remains the only metric that allows comparison between student-athletes and the general student body. Student-athletes who entered college in 2007 earned the highest federal graduation rate ever: 66 percent. That rate is one point higher than the general student-body at Division I schools.

African-American male student-athletes earned a 52 percent federal graduation rate – 11 points higher than the federal graduation rate for African-American men in the overall student body. African-American female student-athletes graduate at 63 percent, a rate 13 points higher than African-American females in the overall student body. Federal rates in men’s basketball and FBS football do lag behind the rates of men in the student body, though African-Americans in those sports complete their degrees at a higher rate than African-American men generally.

Federal rates also provide a longer look at student-athlete academic achievement. They were first collected with the 1984 entering class and have continued to improve over nearly a quarter-century.

The rate for all student-athletes has increased 14 percentage points in that time. The 1984 entering class of FBS football student-athletes graduated at a 47 percent rate according to the federal calculation, compared with 62 percent of the 2007 entering class. Federal graduation rates for African-American student-athletes increased from 35 to 56 percent in that time period, and rates for white student-athletes increased from 59 to 70 percent.

“More student-athletes than ever before are leaving college armed with a degree,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “Our members continue to set higher academic standards, and student-athletes continue to meet them.”

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