INDIANAPOLIS -- College athletes are outperforming other students in the classroom, and they're doing it at a record rate.
Eighty-two percent of freshman athletes who entered school in 2004-05 earned degrees within six years, according to the NCAA's newest Graduation Success Rate. The report, released Tuesday, also shows that the four-year graduation rate hit 80 percent for the first time.
Both numbers had been stuck at 79 percent.
Even the traditionally lower federal rate hit 65 percent, a record high for athletes, compared with 63 percent for all other college students The difference between the federal figures and the NCAA numbers is that the government doesn't account for transfer students, regardless of whether they graduate.
One possible reason for the increases is that the Ivy League schools were included in the NCAA calculations for the first time this year. They had not previously been included because the Ivy League does not award scholarships based on athletic performance.
The NCAA report contended that the Ivy League had a minimal impact on the across-the-board improvement.
Graduation rates for male athletes jumped five percentage points to 83 percent, while female athletes improved two percentage points to 92 percent. Among black athletes, the rate improved four percentage points to 68 percent. White athletes came in at 87 percent, a three-percentage point increase. And baseball, which has traditionally lagged among the lowest scoring sports, made a one-year jump from 69.6 percent to 77.4 percent.
What accounts for the improvement?
NCAA officials believe it's the result of stronger academic standards that took effect in 2003.
Among the academic reforms approved during Myles Brand's tenure as NCAA president were requirements that forced incoming freshmen to complete 16 core courses in high school to earn freshman eligibility, and toughened the annual requirement of making progress toward a degree to retain their eligibility after their freshmen season and the establishment of the Academic Progress Report.
The most dramatic impact was seen in the six-percentage point improvement made by black players in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the four-point increase among black players in men's basketball.
Nineteen of the 36 sports measured by the NCAA showed improvement in the four-year measurements, with 15 showing no change. The only sports showing a decrease were in women's gymnastics, which dropped from 93 to 92 percent, and in women's skiing, which dropped from 95 to 94 percent.