Athletes Continue to Graduate at Record Levels, NCAA Says

October 25, 2011

Major-college athletes continue to graduate at rates higher than their nonathlete peers, says a report released on Tuesday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Eighty percent of all Division I athletes who entered college from 2001 to 2004 graduated within six years of enrolling, according to the new data. That is one percentage point higher than last year.

The single-year graduation-success rate, as the NCAA refers to its measure, was 82 percent for Division I athletes who started college in 2004. That rate is 3 percentage points higher than for all previous cohorts, an increase the NCAA largely attributes to the stricter academic requirements it put in place starting in 2003.

"Academic reform is working," the NCAA's president, Mark A. Emmert, said in a written statement. "Students are better prepared when they enter college, and they are staying on track to earn their degrees. Some doubted our efforts, but the resolve of our presidents is strong, and we are reaping the fruit of several years of hard work."

One particular bright spot: Black athletes made the biggest improvements of any ethnic group, climbing 5 percentage points in the one-year period.

Over all, more than two-thirds of the NCAA's roughly 5,000 Division I teams reported graduation-success rates of 80 percent or higher, while fewer than 4 percent of teams reported rates of 50 percent or lower.

The NCAA uses its own formula to calculate the graduation-success rates of Division I athletes. The figures are different from the graduation rates calculated by the U.S. Department of Education. The NCAA statistics, unlike the federal ones, do not penalize institutions when athletes transfer to other colleges, as long as they depart in good academic standing.

Under the federal government's measurement, 65 percent of athletes entering college in 2004 graduated within six years, compared with 63 percent of the general student body at Division I institutions.

The new report marks the first time Ivy League institutions were included in the calculations. They reported some of the highest graduation-success rates for the 2001 to 2004 cohorts, with Columbia University, Brown University, and Dartmouth College leading the nation's biggest sports programs with 100-percent or 99-percent rates. If the Ivies were not included, the one-year graduation-success rate would have been 81 percent.

This year's boost was more pronounced among male students than female. Male athletes saw an increase of 5 percentage points in graduation-success rates, while female athletes went up 2 percentage points. Female athletes continued to graduate at higher rates than males, however. Eighty-eight percent of Division I female athletes who entered college from 2001 to 2004 graduated within six years, while 73 percent of men did.

Specific to gender and race, white males saw the biggest increases, with a 5-percentage-point climb year-over-year, followed by African-American females, with a 4-percentage-point boost. African-American males and white females went up 3 percentage points and 2 percentage points, respectively.

Mr. Emmert said in a news conference that despite the recent surge, the NCAA still faces challenges with particular institutions and sports, as football and men's basketball still hover below 70 percent in graduation-success rates.

Men's basketball teams, which are typically some of the worst academic performers, improved their one-year graduation-success rates from 66 percent to 68 percent. Football, another perennial laggard, held steady at 69 percent. Women's basketball teams improved by 1 percentage point after 2003, to 86 percent in 2004.

Among men's sports, gymnastics, lacrosse, and skiing held the highest graduation-success rates, at 88 percent. In women's sports, field hockey, lacrosse, and skiing reported the highest graduation-success rates, all three at 94 percent, while bowling and rifle had the lowest, at 77 percent and 79 percent.

Since 1995, the overall graduation-success rate for Division I athletes has climbed 8 percentage points, the NCAA says, driven by African-American and female cohorts, which increased by 11 percentage points and 9 percentage points, respectively, during that time. During that span, the NCAA's graduation-success rate for men's basketball has improved 12 percentage points, with African-Americans in the sport graduating at rates that are 15 percentage points higher.