Thursday, December 13, 2007

Annual Graduation Gap Bowl Ranks BC #2 Among Football Teams Headed to Bowl Games

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson published his annual "Graduation Gap Bowl," which is a comparison of the graduation rates of the college football teams who will be playing in post-season bowl games. In past years, the general trend is that the top-ranked football teams have lower graduation rates, but this is not a hard-and-fast-rule. Jackson also inspects the gap between white and black football players at each school.

Last year's compilation by Jackson had an unusual situation: #1 Navy (98%) was facing off against #2 BC (96%) in real-life bowl game. (BC won.) This year? Same ranking: #1 Navy (95%) and #2 BC (93%), although they won't be facing each other in a bowl game.

There is an important caveat to this: Jackson reports only the graduation success rates (GSR) of football teams going to post-season bowls, not all Division-1 football teams. I have not inspected the large number of other football teams that didn't make it to a post-season bowl game; a cursory inspection of a few schools found at least one that was as high as BC: Stanford University (GSR 93%). Harvard University has no tabulated GSR because GSR is only calculated for students on athletic scholarships (Harvard offers no athletic scholarships), so there may very well be other universities with higher graduation rates among student-athletes who aren't on athletic scholarships.

The student graduation rates can be found at the NCAA website, along with an explanation of the numbers.

Here are BC's historical numbers. Year 2007 refers to students who graduated by August 2006; these are combined numbers for 4-year graduation rates (i.e., those who entered in fall 2002) and 6-year graduate rates (i.e., those who entered in fall 2000).

Graduation Success Rates (GSR) 2005-2007
Year Black GSR White GSR Overall GSR
2007 90% 94% 93%
2006 93 97 96
2005 87 94 89

The method of calculation preferred by Jackson changed in 2005 following changes in how the NCAA reported the numbers. Since 2005, Jackson's tabulated numbers have been an overall GSR, which accounts for students who graduated within four years, and those who entered two years earlier and graduated within six years. (The GSR also accounts for transferring students.) Before 2005, the NCAA did not reported combined numbers, only reporting separately the 4-year and 6-year rates; Jackson used the 4-year rates before 2005 in his columns.

The following are consistently-used numbers (i.e., the 4-year SGR, not the combined 4+6-year GSR!) for both before and after 2005:

4-Year Student Graduation Rate
Year Black SGR White SGR Overall SGR
2007 81% 91% 87%
2006 86 93 91
2005 79 90 83
2004 74 82 78
2003 68 88 79
2002 66 83 76
2001 74 83 78
2000 71 84 78

The numbers show clearly that BC has significantly increased its graduation success rate for the last two years of graduating classes over the previous six years of graduating classes. Nationally, the trend is also upwards (see p.3) for football players for similar years, but not nearly as large a jump as seen at BC.

Why did BC see a significant increase in their football student graduation rate reported after 2005, i.e., for the students entering after 2001 for 4-year graduation by August 2005 (and are then reported by the NCAA in 2006)? Did BC introduce a particular, new academic program for student-athletes on-campus after 2001? Did BC tighten their entrance requirements in 2001? Did BC loosen their graduation requirements in 2005? Did BC enforce academic achievement requirements for student-athletes more vigorously on campus after 2001?

According to Reid Oslin in BC's Public Affairs office, "there have been no changes in student-athlete admission policy, graduation policy or academic achievement policy in recent years." Instead, Oslin points to the "continuity of the staff in BC’s Learning Resources for Student-Athletes’ office," which has been headed by Dr. Ferna Phillips since 1999 -- around the time that the student-athletes showing the recent gains in graduation rates began matriculating at BC. Phillips has close contact with faculty who teach classes with student-athletes, according to Oslin, thereby proactively heading off academic issues before they become too serious.

The not-quite-so-good news about BC's student-athlete graduation rates? Student-athletes at BC graduate at a slightly lower rate (4-year SGR of 85%) than BC's student body in general (90%). Football players (87%) do a little better than other student athletes on average, though this is probably not statistically significant because it is likely a difference caused of only around one additional football player who graduated. BC's trend for lower student-athlete graduation rates than the rest of the student body is contrary to the nation-wide trend, where both white male and black male student-athletes nationally graduate at higher rates than their non-athlete peers at the same institution.

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