How to Find Student-Athlete Graduation Rates

The NCAA has a public service announcement stating that most of their athletes go pro in something other than sports. They actually provide a table with the probability of competing beyond high school and the percentage who actually make it to the professional level. Given this information, any sensible athlete should pay serious attention to the student part of “student-athletes.”

One thing prospective student-athletes should take a look at is the graduation rate for the schools they’re interested in and compare the graduation rate for their sport. It’s not hard to do.

Different Athlete Graduation Rates

You can look up athlete graduation rates by school, conference, and state at the NCAA website by selecting the “SEARCH: Division” option in the sidebar. When using this website, you need to realize there’s a difference between the Graduation Success Rates (GSR) and the Federal Graduation Rates (FGR). Without going into details, the GSR is a rate calculated by the NCAA and is not comparable to the general student population. To make sure you’re using an apple to apples comparison, use the Federal Graduation Rates.

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I think that once people look up the athletic graduation rates, they’ll be surprised at how well most athletes do compared to the regular student body. For example, according to the latest available report for the University of Alabama, the six-year graduation rate for the freshman of 2013-14 was 71. The rate for student-athletes was 69%.

Definitely good news but very depressing when you consider that the standard graduation rate for a four-year degree is based on taking six-years to complete. Think about that next time you consider borrowing to pay for college.

Federal Athlete Graduation Rates Report

Back to the FGR report. When you open the report for a school, Part A of the first section with show the six-year graduation rate for the latest available freshman class broken down by gender and race/ethnicity. You’ll also see columns for “4-class” with the average for the last four years.

Part B of the first section shows the same information for student-athletes but includes the GSR as well. If you’re goal is to compare the athletes and the general student population, just ignore the GSR.

Part C will show the student-athlete information broken down by sport category. Only Baseball, Basketball, CC/Track, and Football are shown in their own category. The remaining sports are listed as “Other.”

The website only shows the athletic graduation rates for student-athletes receiving athletic aid. So while D3 colleges will show up in the search, athletic graduation information is only available for athletes that compete up a division and are receiving some form of athletic aid.

3 Ways to use Athlete Graduation Rates

If you spend any time studying the athlete graduation rates reports, you’ll quickly realize their limitations. The chief being that the breakout information is limited to just to the revenue sports plus a few others. Ultimately, you’ll probably have more questions than answers. But that can be a useful part of the recruiting process since it gives you something to ask coaches. The following are 3 ways to consider athletic graduation rates.

1. Compare the athlete graduate rates among the programs you’re considering.

If one college has a significantly lower graduation rate than another, wouldn’t you want to know why? It’s one way to compare colleges and gives the coaches a chance to explain their academic priorities.

2. Compare the athletic graduation rate to the general student population.

It appears that most sports report graduation rates higher than the general student population. The structure and discipline required by athletes (and often enforced by athletic departments) may be just the extra help you need to graduate.

3. Compare the different rates between the FGR and GSR.

One major difference between the two is the GSR “subtracts those who left the institution prior to graduation, had athletics eligibility remaining and would have been academically eligible to compete had they returned to the institution.” You don’t know if the athletes left because they transferred or just dropped out. This is another possible question to bring up with a coach.

Things to Consider Besides Graduation Rates

There are plenty of other factors student-athletes should take into consideration knowing they are likely to be going pro in something other than their sport. They need to know if their choices of majors will be limited, the amount of time they can expect to devote to their sport, and what costs, if any, they’ll be responsible for. But understanding your chances of just graduating is a good place to start. (The DIY College Rankings Baseball Spreadsheet includes the colleges’ 4 and 5 year graduation rates.)


How to Find Student-Athlete Graduation Rates