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Graduation Rates Among Student-Athletes Increasing

November 19, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Students participating in Division I athletics boast higher graduation rates than other student populations, according to a new round of data.

In a report released yesterday from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), nearly 80 percent of freshman student-athletes who started college in 2002 graduated. The same was true of the graduation rate among student-athletes who entered college between 1992-2002. The numbers showed an increase of one percentage point over the last year, and six percentage points since the last time the same kind of study was released eight years ago. The national graduation rate for 2005-2006, when many of those student-athletes surveyed would be graduating, was about 54 percent, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. (That figure includes students who graduate in any amount of time, as only about 36 percent did so in four years.) According to the federal government, however, the graduation rate of all students entering college in 2002-2003 was about 62 percent.

While the numbers could change the next time students are polled by the NCAA - this one took place before the organization instituted more stringent academic requirements for students to participate in college sports - NCAA officials are boasting that this is the result of more of an emphasis on academic achievement among student athletes. And while the federal graduation rate among athletes is different than that of the NCAA's figures - the NCAA accepts transfer students in its numbers - no matter how you skew the numbers, more student athletes are graduating than non-athletes.

So why is this happening? The NCAA credits tougher eligibility standards for freshman. If you can't handle the academic rigor of college, you won't get a place on the team. While other student populations are required to have certain minimum academic achievements to gain acceptance into most colleges, the oversight in sports programs into how a student continues to perform academically is much greater for those athletes than for other students.

The data also showed that:

  • the kinds of sports pursued by student athletes mattered. Lacrosse players posted the highest graduation rates, with men's baseball and basketball players posting the lowest rates.
  • female athletes fared better overall than the men, reaching nearly 100 percent graduation rates in skiing, and 94 percent in gymnastics.
  • teams, rather than individual athletes, that posted the lowest graduation rates were men's basketball teams.

If you're a student-athlete preparing for the college transition, remember that financial aid awarded by your college isn't the only aid out there. Consider outside athletic scholarships to supplement your financial aid package, especially if your intended school only awards partial scholarships to athletes.


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