Forget the stereotype of the student-athlete heading to college on scholarship and then flunking out or heading to the pros before graduation. According to the latest data from the NCAA, the number of Division I athletes earning a degree within six years jumped 3 points to 82 percent—a record high.
The data reflects the achievement of students participating in every sport—that means gymnasts and cross-country runners as well as baseball, basketball, and football players—who entered college in 2004. The NCAA uses a measurement called the Graduation Success Rate which officials say "provides a more complete and accurate look at actual student-athlete success." Unlike the more rigid Federal Graduation Rate, which only measures whether a freshman graduates from the same school within six years—if a student transfers, he's considered a dropout—the GSR counts students who switch schools and student-athletes "who leave an institution while in good academic standing" and haven't yet exhausted their athletic eligibility.
Using the FGR, the overall graduation rate for student athletes was 65 percent for the entering class of 2004. While less impressive than the NCAA's GSR's numbers, that's more than the 63 percent of all students at those colleges who graduated within six years—in other words, athletes actually outperform their classmates. That's partially attributable to the fact that student athletes can lose the ability to play (and their scholarships) if their grades go down, while no one checks up on the academic performance of the average college student.
Of course, the record-high GSR doesn't mean the NCAA can rest easy. Only 69 percent of football players and 68 percent of men's basketball players graduate within six years. And the graduation gap between black and white players persists: 84 percent of white male basketball players graduated, compared to just 61 percent of their black teammates. Similarly, 80 percent of white male football players earned their degrees, but only 61 percent of black male football players had a diploma six years later.
To bring the averages up, the NCAA plans to boost GPA requirements and focus more on student athletes' grades in core academic courses. They also plan to sanction teams using an Academic Progess Rate, which is calculated every semester. With student-athlete graduation rates on the upswing, they may well be on the right track.