APR and GSR: What Do They Mean, Really?

One of the drums we beat incessantly here at HLS is our unabashed adoration of Brian Kelly and our unwavering commitment to him is our commitment to extolling the performance of Notre Dame athletes off the field. In today’s post, I want to do two things: 1.) explain the difference between Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and Academic Performance Rate (APR); and 2.) compare Notre Dame’s GSR and APR to that of Alabama, Oregon, and tOSU. I found the results interesting.

The NCAA uses three metrics to gauge and track a football program’s academic performance. The NCAA invented two of them: GSR and APR. The third metric is the US Department of Education’s Federal Graduation Rate (FGR). GSR and FGR track the graduation rate of students receiving sport-based financial aid over a six year period. The NCAA, though, takes into account the fact that athletes can and will leave programs before they graduate, i.e. they go pro or they will transfer for more playing time, and does not count such movements against the host institution. Under the FGR, no accommodations are made. APR tracks the good performance, for lack of a better term, of student-athletes per semester, giving credit to the host institution for each student-athlete in good academic standing. As with GSR, player losses don’t count against the score, as long as the student-athlete in question was in good-standing at the time. NCAA’s member institutions at the DI level must now maintain a 930 APR score or face penalties, which can ultimately result in, among other things, the head coach losing his or her job.

“[APR] itself is fair and about as accurate in predicting graduation as we can get without making it substantially more complicated.”
– Thomas S. Paskus, PhD

In an article last year in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sports, the NCAA’s Principal Research Scientist, Thomas S. Paskus, PhD, wrote that there was a good correlation between APR and GSR. The NCAA expects a 930 APR score to correlate to a fifty percent (50%) graduation rate. I wanted to look at that correlation, and compare the NCAA’s metrics to the FGR for the top four Division I programs in the country in 2012: Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Here’s how it all shook out:

Alabama 978 75 60
Oregon 951 64 52
Ohio State 982 74 61
Notre Dame 973 97 83

If there’s really a correlation, I’m not seeing it in the top four FBS programs. The only school with a correlation appears to be Oregon, whose modest APR score translates into a modest graduation rate of slightly better than fifty percent. And maybe that’s the point, given that the NCAA looks at all DI and DII programs. Still, ND’s relatively “low” APR stands out against the comparatively gaudy score posted by Ohio State. Alabama’s 978 puts it in first place in the SEC. Ahead of Vanderbilt, in at 973. Ohio State comes in third in the Big 10, behind Northwestern, 996, and Wisconsin, 985.

So, I think there’s something behind the numbers. Players being pushed out the door when they’re in good-standing? Maybe. Remember, there’s a penalty for falling below 930 APR and it seems remarkable that Alabama’s APR could be up from 916 in 2004-2005, while its FGR has remained in the low-60’s since 2005. Really. In 2005-06, Alabama’s GSR and FGR were 39 and 39. In 2006-07, 44 and 46. Good move up. In 2007-08, 55 and 53. Soaring, ‘bama. In 2008-09, 67 and 62. Huzzah! In 2009-10, 67 and 61. Beg pardon? In 2010-11, 69 and 64. In 2011-12, the last year for which is data is available, Alabama’s GSR has reached 75, yet its FGR dipped down to 60, demonstrating that the two metrics have decoupled.  In comparison, ND’s GSR and FGR’s today are very similar to what they were in 2005-06, when they were 96 and 85. The numbers, it seems, show a discrepancy between APR and GSR and a further, wider gulf, between GSR and FGR.

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