Graduation Rates for Scholarship Athletes Hold Steady at 79%, NCAA Says

October 27, 2010

Athletes at the nation's biggest college-sports programs continue to graduate at rates higher than their nonathlete peers, according to a new report from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is now in its ninth year of collecting data on how quickly athletes complete their college degrees.

Seventy-nine percent of all Division I athletes who entered college from 2000 to 2003 graduated within six years of enrolling, according to the new data, which were released on Wednesday. That rate is unchanged from last year.

Over all, nearly two-thirds of the NCAA's 4,900 or so Division I teams posted graduation-success rates, as the NCAA refers to its measure, of 80 percent or higher for athletes who entered college during that four-year period. Roughly 5 percent of the teams had graduation-success rates lower than 50 percent.

Some trends have remained constant: Female athletes continue to graduate at higher rates than male athletes, at 87 percent and 72 percent, respectively. And the three Division I sports that have struggled the most with academics—men's basketball, football, and baseball—continue to post the lowest graduation-success rates.

But this year's data mark the first time the NCAA has reported graduation-success rates for athletes who entered college and completed their degrees under the association's stricter academic requirements, which were adopted in 2003. And the gradual leveling-off of graduation-success rates, whether for specific sports or for athletes over all, reflects the new policies' effectiveness, NCAA officials said.

The new data pleased Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance.

"Over all, the high-profile sports are getting better, other sports continue to do well, and the culture of academic reform gets stronger every year," he said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. But in the sports of football and men's basketball, he added, "That doesn't mean we should rest on our laurels. We've got a ways to go."

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.

When looking at the federal data, the NCAA report states that Division I athletes still graduate at rates slightly higher than their nonathlete peers: For the cohort entering college in 2003, 64 percent of athletes graduated within six years, compared with 63 percent of the general student body at Division I institutions.

Mark A. Emmert, the NCAA's new president, said he hoped the favorable comparison would put to rest negative stereotypes of athletes.

"The dumb-jock myth is just that," said Mr. Emmert, a former president of the University of Washington. "It's a myth."

Mixed Results

In the high-profile sports of football, baseball, and men's basketball, the latest graduation-success rates showed modest changes, if any, from data released last year.

Men's basketball, which tends to lag behind most other sports in its graduation-success rate, posted a one-point increase from last year, graduating 65 percent of its players who enrolled from 2000 to 2003. Football in Division I-A and I-AA saw no increase in its graduation-success rate from last year, with 67 percent and 64 percent, respectively, of its athletes in the 2000-2003 cohort graduating in six years.

The sport of baseball, meantime, showed a slight increase: 70 percent of athletes graduated in six years, compared with 69 percent last year.

The NCAA also breaks down the graduation data by race and ethnicity. This year's report states that African-American male basketball players have shown the greatest increase in their graduation-success rates since the association began collecting data nine years ago, for athletes who entered college in 1995. During that period, the graduation-success rate for African-American male basketball players has increased from 46 percent, for athletes entering college in 1995, to 60 percent, for those who enrolled in 2003.

Among the marquee programs in the largest and wealthiest athletic conferences, several teams, particularly in men's basketball, posted graduation-success rates below 50 percent. They include the men's basketball teams at the Universities of Connecticut and Maryland at College Park (both 31 percent), Georgia Tech (36 percent), Kansas State (40 percent), and Kentucky (44 percent); and the football team at the University of Oklahoma (44 percent). Twenty-nine teams at 27 institutions—including such sports as women's tennis, men's golf, and women's skiing—had graduation-success rates of zero.