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July 15, 2010 - NCAA academic progress benchmarks weakened over time

Inside Higher Ed published an article about how the NCAA's benchmark for measuring the academic success of athletic teams, the Academic Progress Rate (APR), is weaker than originally intended when correlated to recent graduation rates.  The NCAA uses the APR as a tool for each Division I athletic team to account for progress toward graduation, and penalizes teams for poor academic performance if they score below either a 900 or 925 calculation.

“When tweaks began to be made to the system, the formula was watered down,” said Amy P. Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “It may take a while to get the data, and we commend the NCAA for staying on top of this, but now changes have to be made. The APR and its implementation have been positive for accountability, but it can only be as effective as its benchmarks.”  The Knight Commission believes that all teams with a [Graduation Success Rate] below 50 percent should not be allowed to compete in postseason play. In a report issued last month, the group criticized the APR system, arguing that it takes too long for teams to be punished for their players’ poor academic performance.

The NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance stated that previous changes the association made to the way APR scores are calculated have watered down the rate's ability to predict teams’ prospective graduation rate. A 925 score was originally intended to project a Graduation Success Rate of 60 percent when the APR was introduced in 2004; however, the association now estimates that an APR of 925 predicts about a 50 percent Graduation Success Rate.  The Graduation Success Rate is the NCAA's alternative to the federal graduation rate, and unlike the federal rate, it counts transfer students and does not punish teams whose athletes leave college before graduation if they leave in good academic standing.

As stated by Inside Higher Ed, the change in the predictive quality of the APR appears to be tied primarily to two scoring changes that the NCAA's member institutions adopted. In 2005, the APR system was altered so that teams would no longer be punished for players who leave college early to play professionally, as long as those leaving did so in good academic standing. Then, in 2008, the system was changed again so that teams would no longer be punished for players who transfer to compete for other institutions, as long as those transferring away earned at least a 2.6 grade point average.

Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance, stated that he thought the NCAA was unlikely to undo the changes adopted in 2005 and 2008 — particularly, he said, since some coaches still think those changes did not go far enough. They argue, for instance, that any player who leaves for the pros should not affect a team’s score, regardless of whether they are in good academic standing.  Harrison, however, would not speculate as to a final solution, noting that his committee still has plenty of work remaining. He said that a fix was possible by the time of a series of NCAA meetings scheduled for this October.

The article notes that one likely option is for the present APR benchmarks to be raised [to 928 or 930] so that they equate to their originally intended graduation rates of 60 percent.