Student-Athlete Graduation Rates Are Up, Study Says

October 29, 2013

College athletes have a lot to celebrate, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. According to college completion rates compiled and studied by the NCAA, Division 1 student-athletes are making great strides in terms of academic performance and college completion.

Graduation rates hit a new record when 82 percent of Division 1 student-athletes graduated from college within six years of enrollment in the last year studied. And, according to a report by Think Progress, student-athletes who enrolled during the four-year period from 2003 to 2006 graduated from college at a rate of 81 percent, another record figure. Two other notable records included football players in the Football Bowl Subdivision, who graduated at 71 percent, and African-American men's basketball players who graduated at 68 percent. Black female athletes are also experiencing a surge in graduation rates with a rise from 76 percent in 2005-06 to 78 percent in 2006-07.

The new graduation numbers gave NCAA president Mark Emmert plenty to praise in a recent press release. "More student-athletes than ever before are earning their college degrees, and we are gratified to see our reform efforts impact the lives of those we serve," said Emmert. "We have even higher expectations for the future, but we are proud of the progress we have made."

Some of the progress is being attributed to academic reforms the NCAA has undertaken in the last few years. Among those reforms is the Academic Progress Rate, or APR, which measures individual athlete achievement over rolling four-year periods. In addition to implementing the APR, the NCAA has also increased standards for incoming athletes, thus setting the bar higher for student-athlete academic achievement as a whole.

The NCAA's numbers take students who transfer to another school in good standing into account, unlike the federal graduation rate which penalizes schools when students transfer, even in good standing. According to Think Progress, the federal graduation rate for student-athletes still stands at 65 percent which is consistent with prior years.

The huge discrepancy between NCAA and federal graduation numbers raises troubling questions about whether either set of statistics provide a realistic picture of the situation. First, the NCAA created its own measure to account for the fact that the federal numbers don't take transfer students into account, or students who leave college to play sports at a professional level. And, while the NCAA measure does account for those things, they don't track graduation rates for non-athlete students which makes it difficult to compare against graduation rates of the rest of the student population.

Members of the NCAA are satisfied with the progress and determined to keep student-athlete graduation rates high. And regardless of the confusion between NCAA and federal graduation rates, Walter Harrison, University of Hartford President and chair of the Committee on Academic Performance, believes that the progress can be attributed to recent policy changes and the fact that student-athletes, coaches, and administrators are working together.

"What I try to concentrate on when I look at these results is not the numbers but the human lives that have been impacted, the numbers of students who graduate from college now who, 10 or 12 years ago, because we didn't have these policies in place, wouldn't have graduated," said Harrison in a press release.

Compiled by Holly Johnson


"Division I student-athletes make the grade,", October 2013, Michelle Brutlag Hosick,

"NCAA Graduation Rates Report Shows Student Athletes Completing Their Degrees at Record High Rates,", October 25, 2013, Russell Westerholm,

"NCAA says overall grad rates up,", October 24, 2013, Associated Press,

"NCAA Says Its Graduation Rates Hit Record High, But Important Questions Remain,", October 25, 2013, Travis Waldron,

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