With winter commencement later this week, several dozen Northwestern State student-athletes will be among the hundreds of NSU students claiming their prized college diplomas.
In fact, among NSU’s nearly 400 competitors on the NCAA Division I level, three of every four are culminating their college experience with graduation. NSU Athletics’ 75 percent graduation rate ranks fifth overall among the 12 Division I athletic programs in Louisiana and is the highest by a Football Championship Subdivision program that fields full squads in men’s and women’s track and field, the two sports other than football with the largest squad sizes.
The NCAA’s recent release of its annual Graduation Success Rate data reflected remarkable academic achievement by NSU student-athletes. NSU Athletics’ 75 percent GSR was 20 percent higher than the solid 55 percent federal graduation rate recorded by the university’s general student population, and seven points higher than the federal rate for all of the country’s Division I competitors who entered college in 2010 and finished no later than 2016.
LSU, Tulane, Nicholls and UNO were the only in-state institutions competing at the Division I level with higher overall GSR scores than Northwestern State in the 2017 report. Nicholls does not have men’s track and field, and UNO does not play football, leaving their student-athlete populations significantly smaller than NSU’s. LSU and Tulane play in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
“Just as any competitive win is the result of a team effort, the continuing success of NSU student-athletes as reflected in another outstanding NCAA Graduation Success Rate is a credit to many individuals across campus,” said director of athletics Greg Burke. “In fact, some of those individuals are no longer at NSU but because the GSR is a six-year calculation, their influence at some point during that period had an impact on our 75 percent rate.
“As an athletic director, I feel extremely blessed to have a supportive administration and a faculty that encourages and challenges our student-athletes to make athletic achievement a priority,” he said. “Our coaching staff deserves credit for recruiting young people who value their scholarship and the educational opportunity it provides. The academic and compliance staffs provide firm but positive support on a daily basis and most importantly, the student-athletes write the papers, pass the tests, and earn the credit hours.”
Three NSU sports – softball, volleyball and women’s tennis – had perfect 100 percent GSR scores. Four more of the 10 sports groupings – baseball, men’s basketball, soccer and women’s track and field – had GSR scores about NSU’s 75 percent mean, said faculty athletics representative Jody Biscoe.
“These numbers are extremely positive indications of the overall student-athlete experience, culminating in graduation, when compared to other peer institutions,” said Biscoe. “This is evidence that academics and the student-life experience in Demonland is the foundation for great success in college and going forward in life.”
Said Biscoe: “We could not have the successful numbers without the character and drive of the student-athlete, the willingness for coaches to recruit quality individuals to their programs, academic support within our athletic academic study area and throughout departments at the university, and faculty who establish high standards for all students.”
The Division I Board of Directors created the GSR in response to Division I college and university presidents who wanted data that more accurately reflected the mobility of college students than the federal graduation rate. The federal rate counts any student who leaves a school as an academic failure, no matter whether he or she enrolls at another school. Also, the federal rate does not recognize students who enter school as transfer students.
The GSR formula removes from the rate student-athletes who leave school while academically eligible and includes student-athletes who transfer to a school after initially enrolling elsewhere. This calculation makes it a more complete and accurate look at student-athlete success. The federal graduation rate, however, remains the only measure to compare student-athletes with the general student body.