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November 18, 2009 - 79 percent of student-athletes graduate, but football, basketball, and baseball players lag behind

According to a report released by the NCAA on November 18, 79 percent of college athletes who entered college between 1999 and 2002 received their degrees within six years, up one percentage point from last year.  

However, the three sports which graduated the fewest players in previous years -- football, men's baseball, and men's basketball -- continue to fall behind the 15 other men's sports and 18 women's sports covered in the NCAA's annual study. Men's basketball players across Division I graduated at a 64% rate, major-college football players at a 67% rate and baseball players at a 69% rate.  The rate of graduation among men's basketball players has improved from 56 percent in 1995, the first year of data collection.

The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out trends in the data, and sport teams from several institutions that lag behind others in Division I:

  • More than a quarter of the 320-plus men's basketball  programs in Division I graduated fewer than 50% of the players who arrived from 1999 to 2002. That includes No. 3 Texas (47%), No. 5 Kentucky (31%) and 10 more of the 25 teams in this week's USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches' Poll.

  • Texas also lagged in football, where the unbeaten Longhorns are pointed toward the Bowl Championship Series title game. Their grad rate was 49% in the sport. Last year's BCS runner-up, Oklahoma, had a 45% rate.
  • One in six Division I baseball programs came in under 50%, including the winners of the last six national championships: LSU (48%), Fresno State (45%), Oregon State (44%), Texas (37%) and Cal State-Fullerton (29%).

"I think there is a lot of evidence now that there's a sea change going on culturally in college athletics and that academics is a far more important focus for our coaches, our athletics staff and our athletes than ever before," said Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance.

The data were released in an annual report publishing the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate (GSR), developed to account for transfer student-athletes and others not tracked by methodology mandated by the federal Student Right-to-Know Act. The NCAA rate captures about 37 percent more students than the federal rate, resulting in a more accurate assessment of the academic success of student-athletes. However, the federal rate provides the only method by which student-athletes can be compared with the general student body. Even under the federal rate, student-athletes continue to graduate at rates higher than their student-body counterparts, 64 percent to 62.

Men’s basketball student-athletes typically have not fared well in graduation-rate studies, and several working groups have been created over the years to improve their academic performance (along with addressing recruiting and financial aid rules).  The Men’s Basketball Academic Enhancement Group recently completed its work and will have several recommendations considered by the membership this year. In addition, The late NCAA President Myles Brand created another working group to study academic improvement for football student-athletes, and that group is developing solutions.

The most recent Graduation Success Rate study shows that Division I men’s basketball student-athletes continue to graduate at steadily higher rates while the overall rate for Division I student-athletes remains stable.

RESEARCH REPORTS
- Division I GSR
- Div II ASR
- Div I Fed Grad Rates
- Div II Fed Grad Rates
- Div III Fed Grad Rates

The single-year Graduation Success Rate for men’s basketball student-athletes rose from 65 percent for student-athletes entering college in 2001 to 66 percent for those who entered in 2002. Even more dramatic was the long-term improvement – up from 56 percent for the entering class of 1995 (the first year of data collection).

The overall single-year Graduation Success Rate, which hit 79 percent last year, remained steady, though the four-year rolling rate improved from 78 to 79 percent.

The latest study was released Wednesday.

The NCAA developed the Graduation Success Rate to account for transfer student-athletes and others not tracked by methodology mandated by the federal Student Right-to-Know Act. The NCAA rate captures about 37 percent more students than the federal rate, resulting in a more accurate assessment of the academic success of student-athletes.

However, the federal rate provides the only method by which student-athletes can be compared with the general student body. Even under the federal rate, student-athletes continue to graduate at rates higher than their student-body counterparts, 64 percent to 62.

Men’s basketball student-athletes typically have not fared well in graduation-rate studies, and several working groups have been created over the years to improve their academic performance (along with addressing recruiting and financial aid rules).

Among those was the Men’s Basketball Academic Enhancement Group, which finished its work earlier this year. Though its proposed reforms have not yet been adopted (many will be considered in this year’s legislative cycle), some believe its work – and the overall impact of academic reform for all Division I student-athletes – has led to a culture change in men’s basketball.

“We’ve seen a more thorough examination of academic preparedness of the prospective student-athletes being recruited by men’s basketball coaches and a greater campus involvement in recruiting evaluations,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “Academic reform and the (Academic Progress Rate) have become common subjects of conversation among coaches. Campus-wide improvement plans are receiving buy-in from coaches and administrators at all levels, and there is a very real concern over potential sanctions. That all indicates to me a real cultural change in basketball.”