Graduation rates increase slightly for Division I schools

Wednesday, September 27th 2006, 3:12 pm
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Graduation rates for Division I student-athletes increased slightly to 77 percent this year, but men's basketball, baseball and football still continued to fall below that national average.

The numbers, released Wednesday by the NCAA, were based on incoming freshmen from 1996 to 1999 graduating within six years. It was the second straight year the NCAA's new formula showed more than three-fourths of all athletes earn diplomas. Last year's rate was 76 percent.

All sports, regardless of gender, had higher rates under the new calculation than the previously established criteria used to determine the federal rates, and some were significantly better under the NCAA formula. The study included 93,000 Division I athletes, almost all on scholarship, over the four-year period compared with 68,000 included in the federal survey.

``The good news is we are continuing to make overall success,'' NCAA President Myles Brand said. ``The trend lines are up and, with a few exceptions, the academic reforms we are continuing to lay, even in sports like football and basketball which historically lag, are showing progress.''

The difference between the two numbers is that the NCAA includes students who transfer to other schools throughout their college career, a factor not considered in the federal numbers.

This is the second year the NCAA has released its own data. Athletes in 35 sports _ 17 men's and 18 women's _ were evaluated. Graduation among male athletes increased from 69 to 70 percent, while female athletes remained at 86 percent for the second straight year.

Men's basketball again had the worst graduation rate of any sport, 59 percent, but the NCAA number was significantly higher than the federal number (45). Baseball and football were the next lowest, with both showing 65 percent of their athletes graduate. Federal numbers showed football had a 55 percent graduation rate, baseball 46 percent.

Conversely, 82 percent of women's basketball players graduated, 17 percent higher than the federal number. But that was the third lowest rate on the women's side.

Like the overall number, football and men's and women's basketball both showed 1 percent gains over 2005. Baseball's number held steady.

``If you look at the year-by-year studies for football and men's basketball over the last five years, we're very pleased with the steady academic performance from '95 to '99,'' said NCAA vice president Kevin Lennon.

Among The Associated Press' Top 25 football teams, five schools met or exceeded the national average with Notre Dame leading the way at 95 percent. The others were Nebraska at 88 percent, Florida at 80 percent, TCU at 78 percent and Clemson at 77. Florida had the biggest improvement from the federal number nearly doubling its 42 percent rate.

Three of the Top 25 schools had graduation rates below 50 percent. They were Texas (40 percent), Georgia (41) and California (44).

No. 1 ranked Ohio State was at 55 percent, and Southern Cal, the 2004 national champion, was at 55 percent.

Last season's national basketball champion, Florida, had a perfect 100 percent rate under the NCAA's calculation, and last year's women's champion, Maryland, was at 71 percent.

Sports with the highest percentage of graduates were all on the women's side: fencing, field hockey, gymnastics and skiing all had a 94 percent graduation rate. Women's lacrosse was next at 93 percent, and women's swimming was 91 percent. Only one sport, women's bowling, produced a number lower than the national average _ 70 percent.

No men's sport topped 90 percent.

Brand is pushing to increase graduation rates to 80 percent overall among athletes, a number he thinks will be difficult to reach although he calls it achievable within five years.

``I know 76 to 77 percent doesn't sound like much, but when you get these high numbers, it is of consequence,'' Brand said. ``But good enough is never good enough, and I believe we can stretch it even further.''

The highest rated men's sports were skiing (89 percent), lacrosse (88 percent), fencing (87 percent), gymnastics (86 percent) and water polo (85 percent). Men's ice hockey, men's swimming and men's tennis also had rates topping 80 percent.

Eighteen of the sports equaled the national improvement with a 1 percent increase over last year. Six sports showed no change. Only four sports _ men's and women's lacrosse, men's water polo and women's bowling had decreased rates. Both lacrosse teams dropped by 1 percent, while men's water polo and women's bowling each had 2 percent decreases.

Women's rifle, which improved from 73 percent to 78 percent, had the biggest one-year gain. Men's ice hockey and men's skiing were next with 4 percent increases followed by wrestling, which went from 66 percent to 69 percent.