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By Gary Brown
Now that Division III has a quality collection of data verifying that its student-athletes perform just as well as or better academically than the general student body, members need to decide where to go from here.
They’ll begin doing that at the Division III Issues Forum on Jan. 13 at the NCAA Convention with roundtable discussions about next steps following a two-year academic reporting pilot that provided empirical evidence of what the division’s strategic-positioning platform purported student-athlete academic success to be. In both years of the pilot, student-athlete graduation rates were above those of the general student body.
“The good news is that the pilot data articulate what we’ve previously only been able to assume with regard to academic performance,” said Jim Schmotter, president at Western Connecticut State and current vice chair of the Division III Presidents Council who will begin a one-year term as chair after the Convention. “This research now allows us to say that we deliver on the academic front like we say we do philosophically. What we need to do now is decide about subsequent collection and how to use these data going forward.”
Schmotter is a member of an Academic Reporting Working Group composed of Presidents Council and Management Council members and other subject-matter experts who met in December to develop parameters for those next steps.
They want feedback on a number of issues, including the relevance and utility of the data and the effort it takes to collect them. Schools that participated in the pilot cited several benefits for having the data, but some said the burden of gathering them detracted from their relevance.
Questions at the issues forum will probe those concerns. Primarily, the working group (as well as the two Councils) wants forum attendees to discuss what the academic findings mean for the division, which is in its second full year of an ambitious identity campaign that touts the academic focus and success of student-athletes.
If results continue to be as good as they were in the pilot – and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t be – individual schools and conferences would stand to benefit from their collection and active communication, since this information permits better strategic planning and accountability and helps schools to identify issues with a core tenet of their institutional mission.
In addition, those benefits might mitigate the burden of providing the data.
“If the division sees value in having these data – and I think most of our membership will – then we need to determine the frequency and representativeness with which they are collected,” Schmotter said.
In that vein, forum attendees will be asked to consider whether an annual, division-wide collection is desired or if a voluntary and less-regular approach is more suitable. The annual, division-wide approach would produce more of a census on which the division could firmly hang its academic hat, while the optional approach trades comprehensiveness for being less burdensome on institutional personnel.
“As for the perception of burden,” Schmotter said, “many schools will tell you that they’re already providing these academic data for the federal graduation rates anyway and that distinguishing student-athletes is not burdensome at all. But our division is a diverse one, which means there are schools that may find an additional task to be off-putting, even if the results that task provides could be put to good use.”
To prompt reporting, working group members discussed various incentives that range from honorariums or stipends for institutions or conferences to customized reports that could be provided. They’ll seek feedback from forum participants about those ideas, too.
The presentation at the forum will open with a review of pilot results. They include federal graduation rates for student-athletes and the student body from the entering classes of 2003 and 2004. The federal rate is the proportion of students who enrolled as full-time, first-time freshmen who graduated from the same institution within six years of initial enrollment.
The results also include a Division III Academic Success Rate that includes all non-scholarship freshmen student-athletes on the roster on the first date of competition. The Division III ASR is similar to the Division I Graduation Success Rate and the Division II ASR in that it removes from the cohort students who left the institution in good academic standing before graduation.
Over two years, 157 schools submitted data to calculate the rates (95 schools submitted in both years; 20 submitted in Year 1 but not Year 2; 42 submitted for the first time in Year 2). Initial results based on the 95 schools that submitted data in both years is highlighted in the report. Those schools are “representative” of the division with respect to private/public, average enrollment, average sports sponsorship, and proportion of athletes to undergraduate enrollment.
For the 2003 cohort, the student-athlete graduation rate (compiled using the federally mandated methodology) was 66 percent, compared to 63 percent for the student body. For the 2004 cohort, the gap was 67 percent to 63 percent.
The Academic Success Rate (including freshmen who left the school in good academic standing) for the 2003 cohort is 88 percent; for the 2004 cohort, it’s 87 percent.
Once those results are reviewed, discussion/report-out sessions will be held on questions relating to the value of the data, the cost/benefit of collecting them, and the frequency and breadth of that collection. Working group members suggested some sort of straw vote to give attendees a more collective sense of which way the wind is blowing.
Comments from the roundtables will contribute to subsequent discussion in the governance structure during 2013. Any final decision to establish division-wide academic reporting would be subject to a membership vote at the 2013 Convention.
“Last year we tackled the issue of division-wide, year-round drug testing in the same way,” Schmotter said, citing the issues forum as a valuable method of gathering opinions from a number of members. “We believe we’ll get at least some preliminary direction on academic reporting in the same way.”