The Bootleg's Graduation Rate Analysis

In recent months, you have read comments from recruits on the purported strength of numerous Division I-A schools in the academic support they offer their student-athletes. In reality, many schools near and far are shameful in their inability to graduate their players, including a widespread racial gap between student-athlete groups. We pull back the curtain with the newest data from the NCAA.

For our previous Graduation Rate Analyses:

Click here for The Bootleg's 2006 analysis
Click here for The Bootleg's 2005 analysis
Click here for The Bootleg's 2004 analysis
Click here for The Bootleg's 2003 analysis
Click here for The Bootleg's 2002 analysis

The Bootleg is pleased to present its sixth annual analysis of student-athlete graduation rates.

The Bootleg has analyzed the graduation rates for the three major sports:  football, basketball and baseball.  The Bootleg's analysis also covers overall graduation rates for all student-athletes.

As in previous years, we've focused on the Pac-10 schools, but we've also included some grad rates for other schools of interest to our readers.  We've reviewed the graduation rates for all of the major programs across the nation to compile lists of the top 10 and bottom 10 grad rates in each major sport.  We've also looked at graduation rates for African American student-athletes in sports where we have enough data to be meaningful.  Finally, as in the past, we've compiled lists of the biggest "graduation rate gaps" between athlete graduation rates and overall student body graduation rates.

A note about the calculation of graduation rates – Last year, the NCAA came up with a new measure of graduation rates: the "Graduation Success Rate" (GSR).  The Graduation Success Rate changed the way transfers are counted.  The old method counted outgoing transfers as non-graduates of the school, so a school that lost a lot of transfers would see its graduation rate go down.  Under the new GSR, outgoing transfers who leave while academically eligible are not counted at all.  Rather, they are treated as though they had never existed.  So, under the new method, outgoing transfers don't hurt a school's graduation rate, no matter how many there are.  The new GSRs therefore allow factory-style athletic programs to run off large numbers of athletes or to suffer large numbers of defections without taking any hit to their graduation rates.

A cynic might say that the goal in changing the graduation rate methodology was to allow schools with low graduation rates to improve their numbers without actually changing anything about their programs.  Whether that was an intended consequence or not, the adoption of the new method has resulted in an increase in reported graduation rates.  For all Division I-A student-athletes in all sports combined, the overall student-athlete graduation rate in this year's report would have been 63% under the old method, but it rises to 78% under the new GSR method.

The GSRs, like the old graduation rates, are based on the combined graduation rates for the four most recent classes for which data are available.

FOOTBALL

Football Graduation Rates: Pac-10
Stanford94%
Washington66%
Oregon State60%
Oregon59%
UCLA59%
Washington State57%
Arizona State56%
USC55%
Cal44%
Arizona39%

Stanford continues to have the leading football graduation rate in the Pac 10.  Cal's graduation rate continues to languish near the bottom of the conference.  We hear from Cal's administration and fans that things have changed, and the football graduation rate is improving.  We've heard that before, but so far, we haven't seen it in the NCAA's numbers.  It may be true that Cal's grad rate really is improving now.  If so, the results will show up in future years.  In the meantime, Cal football's 44% grad rate in the most recent NCAA report reflects Cal's performance during the recent past.  We think it's fair and responsible to hold Cal accountable for that performance.

Football Graduation Rates: Selected Others
Nebraska88%
Florida80%
Virginia Tech74%
Michigan71%
Miami68%
Division I-A Average66%
Boise State65%
Virginia63%
West Virginia63%
Wisconsin62%
Tennessee58%
Ohio State55%
Georgia Tech55%
Louisville53%
Florida State52%
Oklahoma52%
LSU49%
Alabama44%
Georgia41%
Texas40%

Congrats to national champion Florida, which reports a strong 80% graduation rate.  The other traditional SEC powers trail far behind – Alabama, LSU and Georgia are down there below 50%, in Bear territory.  Texas is even lower, graduating only 40% of its football players.  And remember, these are the new Graduation Success Rates – outgoing transfers aren't included in the analysis, so these low grad rates can't be blamed on a rash of transfers.

Top 10 Football Grad Rates: Division I-A
Navy98%
Boston College96%
Notre Dame95%
Stanford94%
Wake Forest93%
Duke93%
Air Force93%
Vanderbilt92%
Northwestern91%
Army90%

For the second straight year, Navy leads the nation in football graduation rates.  The other two service academies also landed in the top 10 again this year.  Stanford moved up a couple of notches, from 92% last year to 94% this year.  Last year, Clemson surprisingly made the top 10 list.  That strong showing by Clemson apparently was an aberration, as Clemson is not close to the top 10 this year (77%).  Clemson's place in the top 10 has been taken by Duke.

Bottom 10 Football Grad Rates: Division I-A
San Jose State32%
Florida Atlantic33%
Arizona39%
Texas40%
Georgia41%
Central Florida42%
New Mexico43%
Cal44%
Alabama44%
Minnesota44%
UTEP44%

San Jose State has been showing up on the "bottom 10" list every year, and finally has landed in the absolute bottom spot, with the worst football graduation rate in all of Division I-A.  Last year, San Jose State had the worst basketball graduation rate, so the Spartans have the sad distinction of having the worst grad rate in the nation in the two major sports in consecutive years.  Joining San Jose State in the bottom 10 this year is another Bay Area program: Cal.  Texas and Alabama are making their second consecutive bottom 10 appearances.

Grad Rates for African American Football Players: Pac-10
 African AmericanCaucasianDifference
Stanford94%95%-1%
Washington62%68%-6%
Arizona State51%68%-17%
Oregon48%79%-31%
USC46%61%-15%
Oregon State44%69%-25%
Washington State40%84%-44%
UCLA39%79%-40%
Cal38%48%-10%
Arizona25%55%-30%

In this section of the analysis, we compare Graduation Success Rates for African American athletes and for white athletes.  There continue to be significant gaps – sometimes, unconscionable gaps.  These figures illustrate one of the serious under-reported problems of big-time NCAA sports:  the extent to which African American athletes who accept athletic scholarships fail to realize the promise of a college education.

We continue to wonder why the racial gaps in graduation rates are not a bigger story.  For example, shouldn't somebody be trying to figure out why UCLA graduates 79% of its white football players but only 39% of its African American football players?  Seven of the Pac-10 schools graduate fewer than half of their African American football players, while only one graduates fewer than half of its Caucasian players.

Grad Rates for African American Football Players: Selected Others
 African AmericanCaucasianDifference
Nebraska80%91%-11%
Florida74%91%-17%
Miami63%83%-20%
Auburn52%85%-33%
Michigan50%91%-41%
Florida State48%75%-27%
Tennessee47%92%-45%
Wisconsin44%72%-28%
Oklahoma43%67%-24%
Arkansas38%85%-47%
LSU37%73%-36%
Texas33%57%-24%
Ohio State32%85%-53%
Georgia24%72%-48%

Somehow, Ohio State manages to graduate 85% of its white football players, but only 32% of its African American players.  As an Ohio State football player, if you're white, you're quite likely to leave with a degree; if you're African American, you have less than a 1-in-3 probability of getting a degree.  We see similar disparities at a number of other "football factory" schools.

Biggest Difference in Grad Rates Between Football Players and All Students: Division I-A (Difference of 15% or more)
 Football PlayersAll StudentsDifference
Cal44%86%-42%
Texas40%73%-33%
Georgia41%72%-31%
Virginia63%92%-29%
UCLA59%87%-28%
Michigan State45%71%-26%
USC55%80%-25%
Alabama44%62%-18%
Arizona39%56%-17%
Georgia Tech55%71%-16%
For an explanation of the calculation of these "graduation rate gaps,"
see the note at the end of the analysis.

Division I-A football players as a group have an overall Graduation Success Rate that is about the same as the graduation rate for the general student body at Division I-A schools.  However, there are a handful of schools where the football GSRs fall significantly below the overall graduation rates.  You could think of this gap as one indication of the extent to which a school has compromised its normal academic standards for the sake of football.  Year after year, the same schools show up on this list.  This year, once again, Texas and Cal are right there at the top.

BASKETBALL

Basketball Grad Rates: Pac-10
Washington80%
Stanford69%
Oregon St.58%
Washington St.50%
Oregon50%
USC44%
UCLA44%
Arizona42%
Cal38%
Arizona St.31%

For the first time in many years, Stanford is not the Pac-10 leader in basketball grad rates, having dropped to second place behind Washington.  Stanford's graduation rate declined from the 90%+ range to 69% because the class including Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt is now showing up in the statistics.  Jacobsen and Borchardt departed early for the NBA, and neither of them has yet finished his degree.  It appears that another member of that class may have finished his degree outside the six-year window used for measuring graduation rates and therefore counts as a non-graduate.  That class will continue to affect Stanford's reported graduation rate for the next three years.

In general, Pac-10 basketball graduation rates are not good.  Seven of the 10 programs have basketball grad rates below the aggregate Division I-A basketball GSR of 57%.  We note that Cal managed a basketball grad rate of only 38%.  All of the players included in the statistics played their entire careers for current Cal coach Ben Braun, so we don't think Cal can continue to blame the 38% grad rate on the prior regime.

Basketball Grad Rates: Selected Others
Marquette80%
Alabama73%
Santa Clara71%
North Carolina70%
Duke67%
Wisconsin64%
Division I-A Average57%
Pitt57%
Kansas45%
Gonzaga44%
Ohio State38%
Kentucky33%
Connecticut30%
Maryland18%

Basketball graduation rates are all over the map.  Some of the traditional powerhouse programs have much higher graduation rates than others.  For example, compare two of the best-known basketball programs:  North Carolina (70%) and Kentucky (33%).  North Carolina's performance shows that it's possible to have a strong program and a good graduation rate.

Top 10 Basketball Grad Rates: Major Programs
Wake Forest100%
Florida100%
Michigan State91%
Notre Dame91%
Villanova90%
Air Force89%
Kansas State88%
Northwestern88%
Virginia85%
Indiana82%
Vanderbilt82%

Wake Forest and Florida had 100% graduation rates for the second straight year, which is impressive.  Stanford has fallen out of the top 10, and probably won't get back into the top 10 for the next three years, all of which will be affected by the Jacobsen/Borchardt class.  Without Stanford, there no longer is any Pac-10 representation in the top 10.

Bottom 10 Basketball Grad Rates: Major Programs
New Mexico7%
Georgia9%
Iowa State12%
UNLV17%
Tennessee18%
Maryland18%
San Jose State22%
Nevada24%
Clemson25%
Fresno State25%

New Mexico and Georgia, which finished one-two on the bottom 10 list for basketball grad rates, also made the bottom 10 list in football.  Do you think maybe the athletes at those schools need to hit the books?  And shouldn't Georgia be embarrassed that it has a basketball graduation rate of just 9%, while next door in Florida they have a national championship basketball program with a 100% grad rate?

Biggest Difference in Grad Rates Between Basketball Players and All Students: Major Programs (Difference of 30% or more)
 Basketball PlayersAll StudentsDifference
Georgia9%72%-63%
Iowa State12%66%-54%
Maryland18%72%-54%
Cal38%86%-48%
Clemson25%73%-48%
UCLA44%87%-43%
Connecticut30%71%-41%
Tennessee18%58%-40%
Texas A&M40%76%-36%
USC44%80%-36%
Providence50%85%-35%
New Mexico7%42%-35%
Gonzaga44%77%-33%
TCU33%66%-33%
Rutgers42%72%-30%

There are more schools with big graduation rate gaps in basketball than in any other sport.  Georgia and Cal are in the top five schools in graduation rate gaps in both basketball and football.

BASEBALL

Baseball Grad Rates: Pac-10
Stanford93%
Washington State77%
Washington67%
Arizona62%
Cal62%
UCLA60%
Oregon State53%
USC47%
Arizona State45%
Oregonno team

Stanford continues to lead the Pac-10 in baseball graduation rates.  Stanford head coach Mark Marquess reportedly pushes his players to get ahead of schedule academically, so that even if they are drafted by the major leagues after their junior year, they still will be in good shape to earn their degrees.

Baseball Grad Rates: Selected Others
Rice94%
Florida State80%
South Carolina66%
Division I-A Average65%
Georgia Tech65%
Tulane63%
Long Beach State61%
Miami56%
Texas51%
Georgia48%
LSU42%
San Jose State40%
Cal State Fullerton35%

The adoption of the new graduation rate methodology makes a big difference for some of the traditional baseball powers.  For example, Florida State reports a grad rate of 80% under the new GSR method, but only 39% under the old method; Long Beach State reports a grad rate of 61% under the new GSR method, but only 23% under the old method; and South Carolina reports a grad rate of 66% under the new GSR method but only 28% under the old method.  These large disparities suggest that these programs are losing large numbers of transfers to other schools.  We're able to figure this out because the NCAA still requires schools to report their grad rates under both methods.  However, the new Graduation Success Rate has become the grad rate usually mentioned in the press or in the universities' publicity.  With numbers like these, it's not surprising that the universities prefer to publicize the numbers generated by the new GSR method.

Overall, the combined GSR for baseball players at Division I-A schools is 65%, while the combined federal graduation rate for baseball players is 43%.  The change in methods therefore raised the reported graduation rate for baseball players by 22 percentage points.  In comparison, the new method raised the overall Division I-A football graduation rate by 11 percentage points (from 55% to 66%) and raised the overall Division I-A men's basketball graduation rate by 17 percentage points (from 40% to 57%).  Thus, the change in methods was especially significant in baseball.

Top 10 Baseball Grad Rates: Major Programs
Vanderbilt100%
Boston College100%
Notre Dame100%
Northwestern97%
Duke95%
Michigan94%
Rice94%
Stanford93%
Michigan State89%
Iowa88%

Among the schools with the highest graduation rates in baseball are a couple of nationally ranked programs, Stanford and Rice.  This shows that despite the loss of top junior players to the baseball draft, it's still possible to have a good graduation rate in baseball.  The top 10 schools in baseball grad rates include the expected group of private schools, along with three large state schools from the Big 10 conference.

Bottom 10 Baseball Grad Rates: Major Programs
Cal State Fullerton35%
North Carolina State35%
Nevada35%
Auburn38%
San Jose State40%
UNLV41%
LSU42%
Wichita St.43%
Oklahoma State44%
Fresno State44%

Just as there are a couple of national powers on the top 10 list in baseball, there are a couple of national powers on the bottom ten list.  Cal State Fullerton and LSU have produced a lot of great moments on the field – but in the classroom, not so much.

Biggest Difference in Grad Rates Between Baseball Players and All Students: Major Programs (Difference of 20% or more)
 Baseball PlayersAll StudentsDifference
USC47%80%-33%
North Carolina State35%66%-31%
Texas A&M46%76%-30%
Auburn38%65%-27%
UCLA60%87%-27%
Cal62%86%-24%
Georgia48%72%-24%
Texas51%73%-22%
North Carolina61%82%-21%

The same schools show up with big graduation rate gaps in each of the three major sports – Cal, Georgia, Texas, UCLA and USC.  When you see the same schools lagging behind in graduation rates in several different sports, year after year, you begin to think that maybe there's an issue with institutional approach.

ALL STUDENT-ATHLETES

Grad Rates for All Athletes: Pac-10
Stanford93%
Washington82%
Oregon State75%
Cal73%
Oregon72%
Washington State71%
UCLA71%
Arizona State70%
USC66%
Arizona65%

Stanford once again leads the conference in overall student-athlete graduation rates.  As was true last year, Washington is a solid second, maintaining some separation over the other conference schools.  The overall Division I-A Graduation Success Rate for all student-athletes is 78%, which means that eight of the Pac-10 schools fall below the Division I-A average.

Grad Rates for All Athletes: Selected Others
Florida92%
Michigan87%
Penn State86%
Nebraska80%
Ohio State80%
Wisconsin79%
Miami79%
Division I-A Average78%
Florida State77%
Texas75%
Tennessee73%
Alabama72%
Georgia Tech69%
LSU69%
Oklahoma67%
Georgia62%

The overall Graduation Success Rate for all Division I-A student-athletes is 78%.  As we've seen, many of the reported graduation rates in major sports are much lower than 78%, but the athletes in the minor sports help pull the overall graduation rates up.

Top 10 Grad Rates for All Athletes: Major Programs
Navy99%
Notre Dame98%
Duke97%
Northwestern96%
Boston College96%
Army95%
Air Force94%
Stanford93%
Vanderbilt93%
Wake Forest93%

The service academies, led by Navy's 99% graduation rate, made a strong showing this year.  Most of the schools on the top 10 list this year are the same schools that were on the top 10 list last year.  There's one notable exception.  Last year, the top 10 list included an unexpected name alongside the usual suspects – Clemson, at 97%.  We were suspicious, as we said in last year's report.  Sure enough, it looks like that 97% grad rate was a fluke, or maybe just plain wrong.  This year, Clemson's GSR has dropped all the way to 84%.  Remember, these GSRs cover the previous four years' worth of data.  So, three years' worth of this year's data was also in last year's number.  Considering the number of athletes involved and the fact that only one-fourth of the data is new, the graduation rate shouldn't move 13 percentage points in one year.  We think Clemson's number from last year deserves an asterisk.

Bottom 10 Grad Rates for All Athletes: Major Programs
UTEP47%
San Jose State56%
UNLV56%
New Mexico State57%
New Mexico58%
Fresno State58%
Georgia62%
Arkansas64%
Memphis64%
Houston64%

The bottom ten list includes a new name this year:  Georgia.  What the heck is Georgia doing down there with those other Bulldogs from Fresno State?  They should put their tails between their legs and go hide under the table.

Grad Rates for African American Athletes (All Sports): Pac-10
 African AmericanCaucasianDifference
Stanford90%95%-5%
Washington64%85%-21%
Arizona State59%77%-18%
Oregon54%83%-29%
Cal54%78%-24%
UCLA53%83%-30%
USC53%72%-19%
Washington State49%84%-35%
Arizona39%76%-37%
Oregon State*77%*
* No data reported

There are sizable, persistent racial gaps in graduation rates at most of the schools in the Pac-10.  For the nine schools reporting data, the average difference the African American athlete grad rate and the Caucasian athlete grad rate is 24 percentage points.

Grad Rates for African American Athletes (All Sports): Selected Others
 African AmericanCaucasianDifference
Duke89%98%-9%
Florida88%94%-6%
Penn State77%86%-9%
Nebraska71%83%-12%
North Carolina66%86%-20%
Michigan64%91%-27%
Virginia63%90%-27%
Ohio State55%85%-30%
Tennessee54%82%-28%
Texas53%81%-28%
Oklahoma43%57%-14%
Georgia32%77%-45%

Many schools continue to have racial gaps in their athlete graduation rates, but the sizes of those racial gaps vary considerably from school to school.  That raises the question:  Why do some schools have small racial gaps in their graduation rates, while others have very large gaps?  Aren't the same social and economic factors present everywhere?  Why do African American athletes at Florida have an 88% graduation rate, while African American athletes at Georgia have only a 32% graduation rate?  We would like to see some attention given to questions such as these.

Source: All figures are taken from the NCAA 2006 Graduation Success Rates Report and the NCAA 2006 Federal Graduation Rates Report.  All figures are "four class" graduation rates, representing the combined graduation rate of the four most recent classes for which data are available.  These figures measure the percentage of scholarship athletes who graduate within six years after enrollment as freshmen.  Outgoing transfers in good academic standing are excluded from the statistics; incoming transfers are added to the statistics.  This analysis covers the classes that would have graduated in the years 2001 through 2004, assuming a five-year track to graduation.

Note on methodology regarding "graduation rate gaps":  The Bootleg's analysis uses the NCAA's new Graduation Success Rates (GSRs), rather than the Department of Education's method (the "federal graduation rates").  To maintain consistency throughout our analysis, we chose to use GSRs for athletes in all sections of our analysis, rather than using GSRs for athletes in some sections of the analysis and federal graduation rates for those same athletes in other sections.  In the past, we found that using GSRs in some sections and federal graduation rates in other sections caused some confusion.  We believe that consistently using GSRs will eliminate that confusion.  However, the NCAA publishes GSRs only for athletes.  It does not publish GSRs for the overall student body; rather, graduation rates for the overall student body are calculated using the federal graduation rate method.  This means we can't make a direct comparison of GSRs for athletes vs. GSRs for the overall student body.  Therefore, in our "graduation rate gap" section, we have compared GSRs for athletes to federal graduation rates for the overall student body.  We realize that this not an ideal comparison, but we believe it is nonetheless informative.  Because GSRs for athletes generally are higher than federal graduation rates for athletes, the "graduation rate gaps" we have identified generally are somewhat smaller than they would have been had we used the athletes' federal graduation rates.


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