One of the ongoing debates in intercollegiate athletics is how to improve the graduation rates of its student-athletes. At Northwestern, that debate is a non-issue as the institution continues to graduate student-athletes at a rate among the nation’s highest, according to Mark Murphy, director of athletics.
In February -- in an effort to encourage all Division I athletic programs to continue to improve graduation figures for its student-athletes -- the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) released its preliminary Academic Progress Rate (APR) data, scores that will measure an athletic department’s academic performance and whether a school or specific sport program is meeting a minimum APR standard, known as a “cut score.”
Northwestern’s preliminary APR, which is derived from 2003-04 academic data, is an “impressive” 980. The 980 score was the best in the Big Ten Conference. The actual 980 score still leads all Big Ten Conference institutions and falls well above the NCAA established “cut score” of 925.
All 19 Northwestern varsity sports programs recorded a figure above 950, with 10 of the programs achieving a perfect 1,000 (men’s basketball, men’s golf, men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, women’s fencing, women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball).
“Success in intercollegiate athletics at Northwestern University has long been linked to the educational mission of the institution,” said Murphy. “We take a great deal of pride in graduating our student-athletes while fielding competitive teams, many of whom are ranked among their sport’s best. The APR data for Northwestern is impressive and enlightening, but not surprising.”
The overall NCAA Division I-A average APR was 944, while the overall Division I average was 948. The Big Ten Conference average was 963.
The APR “cut score” of 925 equates to a 50-percent graduation rate. Teams that fall below the 925 mark would be subject to contemporaneous penalties if they have a student-athlete who leaves the institution and would not have been eligible had he or she returned for the next term. In this case, the institution would be precluded from awarding that student-athlete’s scholarship to an incoming student-athlete for a one-year period. No penalties will be imposed until after a two-year APR score (2003-04 and 2004-05) is determined.
When calculating the APR, each student-athlete can earn two points per academic per term, one for maintaining academic eligibility and one for returning to school for the next term or graduating.
In addition to the APR, the NCAA also utilizes the federal graduation rate data which tracks all freshmen athletes and whether they earn a degree from that institution within a six-year period. Northwestern has an 87-percent four-year class average. During that time, the four-class average for Northwestern’s entire student body was 92 percent.
Each year, Northwestern’s student-athletes earn a wide number of awards based on their academic success. For the second time in the past three years, Northwestern was awarded the American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award, an honor given annually to the NCAA Division I-A football program with the highest graduation rate.
Northwestern also has a large number of its student-athletes earn Academic All-Big Ten or Academic All-America honors on an annual basis, including five Academic All-Americans and 119 Academic All Big-Ten honorees in 2003-04.