Thursday, June 20, 2013

The mystique of the Academic Progress Rate

The mystique of the Academic Progress Rate

By Jeff Danforth-Manning
The Daily Magi
January 18, 2047

The Academic Progress Rate is a measure introduced by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the nonprofit association organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada to track student-athletes chances of graduation.

The Academic Progress Rate (APR) is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates. It was introduced in the wake of concerns that the majority of athletes were in fact not graduating with qualifications to prepare them for life.

The mandatory publication of graduation rates came into effect in 1990 as a consequence of the "Student Right-to-Know Act," which attempted to create an environment in which universities would become more devoted to academics and hold athletes more accountable for academic success. However, the graduation rates established by the NCAA showed poor results, for example they reported that among students who entered college between 1993 and 1996 only 51 percent of football players graduated within 6 years and 41 percent of basketball players. Feeling pressure to improve these poor rates the NCAA instituted reforms in 2004, including the APR, a new method for gauging the academic progress of student athletes. It was put into place in order to aid in the NCAA's goal for student-athletes to graduate with meaningful degrees preparing them for life. The principle data collector was Thomas Paskus, the Principal Research Scientist for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The APR measures how scholarship student-athletes are performing term by term throughout the school year. It is a composite team measurement based upon how individual team members do academically. Teams that don’t make the 925 APR threshold are subject to sanctions. The NCAA works closely with the schools that do not meet the threshold in order to improve them. When a school has APR challenges, it may be encouraged or even required to present an academic improvement plan to the NCAA. In reviewing these plans, the national office staff encourages schools to work with other campus units to achieve a positive outcome. The staff also works with APR-challenged schools to create reasonable timelines for improvement. While eligibility requirements make the individual student-athlete accountable, the Academic Progress Rate creates a level of responsibility for the university.

Teams that fail to achieve an APR score of 925 - equivalent to a 50% graduation rate - may be penalized. A perfect score is 1000. The scores are calculated as follows:

Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one retention point for staying in school and one eligibility point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by the points possible and then multiplied by one thousand to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate score. Example: A Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team awards the full complement of 85 grants-in-aid. If 80 student-athletes remain in school and academically eligible, three remain in school but are academically ineligible and two drop out academically ineligible, the team earns 163 of 170 possible points for that term. Divide 163 by 170 and multiply by 1,000 to determine that the team’s Academic Progress Rate for that term is 959.

The NCAA calculates the rate as a rolling, four-year figure that takes into account all the points student-athletes could earn for remaining in school and academically eligible during that period. Teams that do not earn an Academic Progress Rate above specific benchmarks face penalties ranging from scholarship reductions to more severe sanctions like restrictions on scholarships and practice time.

Teams that score below 925 and have a student-athlete who both failed academically and left school can lose scholarships (up to 10 percent of their scholarships each year) under the immediate penalty structure.

Teams with Academic Progress Rates below 900 face additional sanctions, increasing in severity for each consecutive year the team fails to meet the standard.

Year 1: a public warning letter for poor performance

Year 2: restrictions on scholarships and practice time

Year 3: loss of postseason competition for the team (such as a bowl game or the men's basketball tournament)

Year 4: restricted membership status for an institution. The school's entire athletics program is penalized and will not be considered a part of Division I.

The first penalties under the APR system were scheduled to be announced in December 2005. Starting with the 2008–09 academic year, bans from postseason competition were added to the penalty structure. The most severe penalty available is a one-year suspension of NCAA membership, which has not yet been assessed as of 2010–11. NCAA college presidents met in Indianapolis in August 2011 to discuss a reform on the APR because of the poor academic performance by student athletes. The NCAA Board of Directors, on Thursday August 11, voted to ban Division I athletic teams from postseason play if their four-year academic progress rate failed to meet 930.

There are many questions regarding how the NCAA will enforce the new policy for football. The Bowl Championship Series is its own entity and decides the college football postseason, thus making them the governing body for college football. President Gary Ransdell said there's uncertainty on how the new standard relates to the BCS. "The BCS is an independently run enterprise, yet it involves NCAA member institutions," he said. "So does this 930 rule also determine eligibility for BCS games? I think that's yet to be ironed out."

Some NCAA institutions participate in football leagues, other than the BCS, which are organized by the NCAA and these reforms would apply to. In the 2011-12 academic year there were 17 teams in the FBS league with APRs below 930 and 37 teams in the FCS league. If these programs do not find a way to improve their APR then they will suffer postseason bans.

While the numbers represented in the APR have a certain significance, there can be misrepresentations for people unfamiliar with what the APR is showing. For example, the APR only applies to students that receive athletic financial aid, which is by no means all varsity athletes at a university. NCAA's 1,265 member colleges and universities report that they have more than 355,000 student-athletes playing each year. Approximately 36% of these NCAA student-athletes receive a share of the $1 billion earmarked for athletic scholarships. Another common misuse of the data occurs when APR results are compared between universities. This is usually not a valid comparison unless it is viewed alongside the graduation rates for non athletes at the institution. For example, one institution may have an APR representing that only 50% of athletes are on track to graduate which seems like athletes are under performing at the university. However, if the graduation rate for non-athletes is also 50% then the low graduation rate for the athletes is not a student-athlete problem, but a university wide problem. Furthermore, it is not always relevant to compare APR scores across universities because the academic rigors between universities differ. For example, at some high performing academic universities freshman struggle with eligibility because the workload is hard to deal with initially, but in the end, those students find academic success.

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