Student-Athlete College Graduation Rates

The NCAA Will Collect and Publish Full Grad Rate Data in Response to Department of Education Decision to Suppress Rates

The NCAA has announced that it will collect graduation rates of student athletes who should be part of the 2003 graduation rate cohort so that it can publish the rates suppressed in the 2002 cohort reported by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) last August.

The change in NCAA bylaws authorizing the association to collect the data was adopted by the governance bodies of all three NCAA divisions earlier this year. This will mark the first time the NCAA has collected the data directly from its membership since 1997.

The DOE informed the association prior to publication last August—of the graduation rates of student athletes who entered in 1996—that rates must be suppressed for programs where there are fewer than three on scholarship or fewer than three in a specific cohort who graduate.

Brand said that the DOE decision tends inadvertently to assist those programs that would prefer to remain in the shadows. For example, it is impossible to tell from the data published this year that 4 institutions selected for the 2004 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship had graduation rates of zero, and 16 had rates of 25 percent or less.

“There is no question that the publishing of graduation rates, especially those of programs where academic success has been lacking, has been an important impetus to the academic reform efforts of the last 15 years,” said NCAA president Myles Brand. “We cannot allow this decision by the DOE to blot the sunshine from how intercollegiate athletics is doing with its most important objective—educating student athletes.”

“Academic reform has been successful with the overall Division I student athlete population,” Brand said. “We were able to report last August a new rate of 62 percent for these individuals—an all-time high.

“But we continue to have problems in football and especially men’s basketball, and the DOE’s suppression decision makes it more difficult to identify the problem programs.”

Ironically, the DOE decision runs counter to the intent of the 1990 Student Right to Know Act that mandated the collection and publication of graduation rates.

Brand noted that the NCAA had been collecting and reporting this data for almost a decade prior to the inception of the federal collection system and said that the graduation rate reports have been a very important management tool for university presidents in their efforts to improve the academic success of student athletes.

The data collection that will occur this spring will mirror the collection that is made by the federal government. However, by collecting the data directly from member institutions, the NCAA will not be subject to federal restrictions that have led to the current level of suppression.

“We have new academic standards in place for student athletes, and we are about to finalize our incentives-disincentives process that will hold institutions and individual sports programs accountable,” he said. “Without continued full publication of the graduation rates—especially those at the low end—we will lose the ability to expose those athletics programs which are failing to educate their student athletes.”

Graduation rates collected by the NCAA, including the adjusted rates for transfers for the 2003 graduation rates cohort, will likely be published in late summer of 2004.