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NCAA graduation rates

2008 October 15
by Skip Sauer

An NCAA report proclaims that graduation rates of student athletes are at their highest ever. I certainly join in the applause for any improvement in the academic performance of student athletes. In conjunction with this report, the organization is releasing its own graduation statistic, the “Graduation Success Rate.” This measure is higher than the graduation rate measured by the Federal government. Schools don’t like the latter, in part because if fails to track transfers (are athletes more or less likely to transfer? I would think eligibility rules would make them less likely to transfer.) But they like the GSR measure for another reason, since they are allowed to “subtract student-athletes who leave their institutions prior to graduation as long as they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.”

Comparing the GSR to the Federal measure indicates that – spin games aside – they are measuring pretty much the phenomenon. Here are the data, as reported by Inside Higher Ed:



Sport

Grad Success Rate

Federal Rate

Baseball

68%

47%

Basketball (Men’s)

62%

46%

Basketball (Women’s)

82%

64%

Bowling (Women’s)

68%

57%

CC/Track (Men’s)

74%

60%

CC/Track (Women’s)

84%

70%

Crew/Rowing (Women’s)

91%

75%

Fencing (Men’s)

86%

78%

Fencing (Women’s)

90%

81%

Field Hockey

94%

81%

Football — Bowl Subdivision

67%

55%

Football — Championship Subdivision

65%

54%

Golf (Men’s)

79%

61%

Golf (Women’s)

87%

71%

Gymnastics (Men’s)

86%

70%

Gymnastics (Women’s)

95%

85%

Ice Hockey (Men’s)

83%

64%

Ice Hockey (Women’s)

90%

74%

Lacrosse (Men’s)

88%

74%

Lacrosse (Women’s)

94%

84%

Rifle (Men’s)

80%

60%

Rifle (Women’s)

82%

64%

Skiing (Men’s)

82%

73%

Skiing (Women’s)

96%

73%

Soccer (Men’s)

79%

58%

Soccer (Women’s)

89%

71%

Softball

86%

70%

Swimming (Men’s)

83%

69%

Swimming (Women’s)

90%

75%

Tennis (Men’s)

83%

64%

Tennis (Women’s)

89%

70%

Volleyball (Men’s)

83%

69%

Volleyball (Women’s)

88%

71%

Water Polo (Men’s)

87%

71%

Water Polo (Women’s)

86%

76%

Wrestling

72%

54%

The GSR averages 15% higher than the Federal measure. Neverthless, at .92, the correlation between the two figures is quite high.

One notices immediately that for the same sport, the graduation rate for women is consistently higher than that for men. This is true for both measures: the average differential is 8% using both the GSR and the Federal measure. Only in the case of the GSR for water polo do women graduate at a lower rate than men. The female-male gap is smallest for fencing and rifle shooting, sports with little or no professional market, and volleyball, in which the market opportunities are more similar than most sports. This lends some credence to the idea that the low graduation rates for baseball, basketball, and football are driven in part by professional opportunities and not just the dumb jock syndrome, a tag that the NCAA is clearly trying to avoid. Perhaps reporting the GSR will help puncture this myth, but as long as the drive to win in the major sports remains strong, the incentive to cut corners with marginally qualified students will remain intact.

As an aside, for anyone interested in studying these data, this NCAA website has loads of it (including that from the Feds). Although the NCAA may be deploying a bit of puffery with the GSR, they should get some credit for making this data easily accessible.

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