INDIANAPOLIS – The NCAA released its annual report on graduation rates Tuesday and proudly declared that college athletes are earning degrees at record rates and outpacing their fellow students by nearly all measures.
For the first time, the graduation rate for both the one-year snapshot of incoming freshmen (in 2004-05) and the four-class measure (covering the years 2001-04) hit at least 80 percent. The one-year score was 82 percent, three percentage points higher than the record 79 percent from the previous three reports. The four-year average was 80 percent, breaking the previous high of 79 set in 2009 and matched in 2010.
“These numbers are real, important indicators of the work we’ve done,” said Walter Harrison, the University of Hartford president and chair of the NCAA’s committee on academic performance. “I think about these results and I don’t see percentage points as much as I do real students, going off to lead successful lives with better chances than before we began this work.”
Critics sometimes contend the NCAA’s numbers are skewed because it uses a different calculation than the federal government. While both measure success over six years, the feds do not count the performance of transfer students regardless of whether they earn a diploma.
But even the government numbers show a record 65 percent of all Division I athletes earned a degree, compared to 63 percent of the overall student body. The NCAA does not calculate grad rates for the overall student population.
One possible explanation for the record numbers is a first-time inclusion of Ivy League schools in the annual report. Those schools had not previously been included, because the Ivy League does not award scholarships based on athletic performance.
The NCAA contends that while the Ivy League schools did have a significant impact on the Football Championship Subdivision numbers, it had a minimal impact on the across-the-board numbers. For instance, the overall one-year grad rate would have been a record 81 percent even without the Ivy League schools.
NCAA President Mark Emmert and others believe the results are a direct reflection of the NCAA’s academic reforms.
In 2003, the NCAA changed the eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and college upperclassmen. It required high school seniors to complete 16 core courses and upperclassmen to finish a higher percentage of course work toward a degree to remain eligible.