College Football Schools with the Best and Worst Graduation Rates
When fans around the nation talk about college football, team rankings make up a large portion of the conversation. Where a fan's favorite team lands in the various polls on a weekly basis can be a source of pride or controversy, depending on placement.
However, one ranking that seems to get far less attention by fans and media alike is the one that compares how various teams measure up with others in the classroom.
The NCAA keeps detailed statistics on the performance of all of its student-athletes. This is done in order to keep schools and teams within each NCAA institution accountable.
The most prominent methods of accountability utilized by the NCAA are the Academic Progress Rate (APR) and the Graduation Success Rate (GSR).
The combination of those statistics allows the NCAA to measure how a particular school and its teams are doing in regard to the classroom. When a school or team fails to measure up, it can be penalized by the NCAA in various ways.
In the case of football, those penalties can include things like reduced practice time replaced with increased academic time, spring practice suspensions or even the loss of participation in postseason bowl games.
Those kind of consequences make the academic rankings far more important than the attention they receive. If a team can't make the grade in the classroom, it can definitely affect what it is allowed to do on the field.
Let's take a look at the top and bottom 25 football teams in the FBS when it comes to graduating players and see if there are any surprises.
GSR vs. FGR
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Before we break down how current FBS schools are doing in the area of graduation, it is important to understand the methods used to measure such a thing.
First, the Federal Graduation Rate (FGR) is a set of numbers utilized by the NCAA to determine how a school is doing in helping its student-athletes complete their education.
This method keeps track of first-time freshmen who are full-time students. It follows those students over the course of a six-year period to see if they graduate at the same institution at which they began their secondary education.
However, this method does not account for students who transfer.
So, the NCAA came up with the Graduation Success Rates (GSR) to more accurately reflect the modern student-athlete experience.
The GSR uses the same type of data as the FGR, but the GSR data also takes into account students who transfer into a school and graduate from that same school. It also doesn't count against a school's rate when a student-athlete in good standing transfers out of that institution to attend another.
For this particular breakdown, we are going to utilize the current Graduation Success Rate (GSR) as our measurement.
However, it won't be the only data we utilize.
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When breaking down the graduation rates of current FBS schools, it was soon realized that many institutions share the same accumulative Graduation Success Rate (GSR) percentages.
In order to effectively list the top and bottom 25 FBS football teams according to their graduation rate, a tiebreaker was needed.
While the GSR is a way to keep an accumulated total of a school's success over a long period of time, the Academic Progress Rate (APR) is used by the NCAA to measure how student-athletes are performing over the course of each school year.
The NCAA's website explains the APR this way:
The Association holds Division I institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through the Academic Progress Rate, a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete, each term.
The site goes on to state:
Beginning with 2012-13 championships, teams must earn a minimum 900 four-year APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to be eligible to participate. For 2014-15 championships, teams must earn a 930 four-year average APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years to participate in championships. In 2015-16 and beyond, teams must earn a four-year APR of 930 to compete in championships.
For this ranking, the most current APR figures will be used as a tiebreaker when the Graduation Success Rate is equal.
This seems like a far better solution than a coin toss.
Best: 25. LSU
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Team: LSU Tigers
The LSU Tigers are No. 25 on the list of those FBS football programs that get it done on the field and in the classroom.
However, even though the SEC dominates many rankings, only two teams from the football powerhouse conference make the top 25 when it comes to graduation of players.
Best: 24. TCU
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Team: TCU Horned Frogs
Speaking of Gary Patterson, the TCU Horned Frogs jump in at No. 24 on this list of the best.
The team's GSR is the same as LSU at 77 percent. However, the APR of 962 was better than the 944 of LSU. Patterson pushes his players in every way, and this ranking proves that.
Best: 23. Colorado State
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Team: Colorado State Rams
Colorado State hasn't had a lot to cheer about when it comes to its football team in recent years.
However, fans can be proud of what the players are doing in the classroom, even if it hasn't translated to gridiron success yet.
In 2013, look for the academic success to continue, and look for the football team to have a decent season overall.
Best: 22. West Virginia
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Team: West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia made a smart decision by leaving the Big East and joining the Big 12 conference.
At No. 22 on the top FBS schools who graduate players, West Virginia is the second and final Big 12 institution to make the list.
There are three Big 12 schools, however, that make the bottom 25.
Best: 21. Syracuse
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Team: Syracuse Orange
Syracuse is another NCAA institution that was smart enough to jump from a sinking conference to gain higher ground.
Now a member of the ACC, the Orange will find the challenges on the football field to be a bit more demanding. However, they seem to be handling the demands of the classroom just fine.
Best: 20. Utah State
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Team: Utah State Aggies
Utah State is now a member of the Mountain West Conference. It joins three other MWC teams on this list of the best.
It will be interesting to see if the Aggies can keep up the success they have experienced on the field and in the classroom with new head coach Matt Wells.
The Aggies former head coach, Gary Andersen, is now leading the Badgers of Wisconsin.
Best: 19. UCF
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Team: University of Central Florida Knights
The University of Central Florida breaks into the top 20 of the best graduation rates in the FBS.
It's another team in conference transition. The school is now a member of the American Athletic Conference.
Best: 18. Boise State
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Team: Boise State Broncos
Chris Petersen has done some remarkable things at Boise State—and not just on the field.
His team makes the No. 18 spot on the list of the best graduation rates in the FBS. It beat out UCF with a tiebreaker APR rating of 993.
The Broncos' 993 APR is second best in the nation, and it is the second year in a row Boise has achieved the No. 2 spot in APR.
Best: 17. Iowa
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Team: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Iowa Hawkeyes fly into the No. 17 position in these rankings.
Even though Iowa hasn't had a lot of success on the field as of late, it has managed to keep it together when it comes to academics.
That is interesting considering the school's distinction of recently being named the top party school in the nation.
Best: 16. Northern Illinois
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Team: Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois found itself on the BCS stage last season. Well, it's not just the on-field success that makes these Huskies special.
At No. 16 on the list of the best, Northern Illinois joins Miami (Ohio) as the only MAC teams in the top 25.
However, there are five MAC teams in the bottom 25.
Best: 15. Miami (Ohio)
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Team: Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
Miami (Ohio) did not have the banner season fellow MAC member Northern Illinois had in 2012.
In fact, the RedHawks finished 4-8 overall last season, and that included four straight losses to finish out the year.
However, while they weren't able to mimic the success of the Huskies on the field, they were able to achieve the highest ranking of any MAC team when it comes to graduating players.
Best: 14. Vanderbilt
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Team: Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt carries the torch for the SEC in these rankings. It may not be the talk of the powerhouse football conference, but this football team graduates the most players.
Last season, the Commodores had success on the gridiron as well. The team finished 9-3 on the season, and that includes a 38-24 victory over North Carolina State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Best: 13. Wake Forest
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Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest struggled on the field in 2012. The team finished the season with three straight losses and an overall record of 5-7.
While those numbers don't look all that great, a graduation rate of 86 and an APR of 970 are numbers the Demon Deacons can be proud of.
Best: 12. Air Force
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Team: Air Force Falcons
Air Force lands at No. 12 on this list, and it has to be bittersweet for the team.
On one hand, the Falcons make the top 25. However, at No. 12 on the list, they are one spot behind Navy and two spots behind Army.
Best: 11. Navy
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Team: Navy Midshipmen
Navy arrives at No. 11 on these rankings. The team finished 8-5 on the field last season, which was a pretty solid year.
However, that loss to Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl has to be stinging still. It will be interesting to see how the team rebounds.
We know the Midshipmen have the minds to do it.
Best: 10. Army
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Team: Army Black Knights
Army wins the competition among the service academies. It is just ahead of Navy and Air Force in these rankings.
Now if only the team can just do something about how it performs on the field. Last season, the team finished with a 2-10 overall record.
Of course, one of those wins was against rival Air Force, but it lost 17-13 against Navy.
Best: 9. Stanford
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Team: Stanford Cardinal
It is not surprising that Stanford makes this list. It is, however, somewhat surprising that the team is only ranked No. 9.
Of course, the workload at Stanford is probably extremely challenging, and not just any student-athlete can handle the weight.
Best: 8. Penn State
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Team: Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien did an incredible job with his team last season.
Keeping things together as horrible circumstances surrounded the team, the school, the state and beyond had to be extremely pressing.
O'Brien was clearly the man for the job.
With an APR of 961, O'Brien has continued the academic standards at Penn State, and with an 8-4 overall record in 2012, it looks like he has also continued the winning tradition.
Best: 7. Rutgers
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Team: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers is the No. 7 team on this list and for very good reason.
The team not only has an incredible 91 percent graduation success rate, but the 978 APR is among the best in college football as well.
Next season, the school moves to the Big Ten. It looks to be a good fit both athletically and academically.
Best: 6. Duke
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Team: Duke Blue Devils
Duke makes this list at No. 6. It is clear that its student-athletes know how to finish things in the classroom.
In 2012, Duke actually made a bowl game. However, the team backed into that game and lost 48-34 to Cincinnati.
The Blue Devils won six of their first eight games of the season only to lose the final five, including the bowl game.
Best: 5. Rice
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Team: Rice Owls
Rice is No. 5 on this list, and it is a team that knows how to finish on and off the field.
In 2012, the squad didn't start all that great. It lost five of its fist six games. However, the team rebounded nicely to win six of its last seven, including the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force.
Best: 4. University of Miami
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Team: University of Miami Hurricanes
The University of Miami football program has been in the news in recent months for all the wrong reasons.
Because of that, it is truly a shame that one of the things that has been overlooked during the distractions is how well that same program is doing in the classroom.
Best: 3. Boston College
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Team: Boston College Eagles
Boston College usually has football teams that excel in academics and win a lot of football games.
Well, only half of that is still true. From its placement on this ranking, you can figure out which one it has continued.
Last season, the team won a total of two games. You have to believe the players are smart enough to figure out how to start winning again.
Best: 2. Notre Dame
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Team: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame made it to the promised land of college football last season only to lose by 28 points to Alabama.
The Irish have a 97 percent graduation rate, which matches the No. 1 team on this ranking. However, the team's 973 APR is 23 points behind that same first-place team.
In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, "It's like deja vu all over again."
Best: 1. Northwestern
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Team: Northwestern Wildcats
With a graduation rate of 97, which is tied for the best in the nation, and an APR of 996, which is the best in the nation, Northwestern takes the No. 1 spot on this ranking.
Northwestern finishing first on this list probably doesn't shock a lot of people, but the numbers are truly impressive. What is equally impressive is that the football team has a pretty good on-field product as well.
Last season, the Wildcats finished 10-3 overall, which included a 34-20 win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
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Now that we have looked at the top of the graduation rate list, it is time to turn the entire list over and look at the other side.
There may be a few surprising appearances among this list of 25.
The top 25 went from good to better. The bottom 25 is ranked from bad to worse.
Worst: 25. Tennessee
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Team: Tennessee Volunteers
An SEC team started off the top 25 of the best, and an SEC team starts the list of the bottom 25 as well.
Tennessee players should probably volunteer a few hours at study hall. They currently have a graduation rate of 58, but their APR is a decent 964.
Worst: 24. Kansas State
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Team: Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State football at No. 24 among the worst graduation rates in the nation might surprise some. But there is no getting around the numbers.
The graduation success rate is a mere 58, and the APR isn't much better at 948.
Worst: 23. Texas
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Worst: 22. UTEP
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Team: UTEP Miners
UTEP certainly needs to work on its 58 percent graduation success rate. But with an APR at 917, it appears as if the team might be going in the wrong direction.
As if the academic numbers weren't bad enough, the Miners went 3-9 last season.
Worst: 21. UAB
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Team: University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers
UAB is another team that finished 3-9 overall last season.
It can't be happy with that, and it definitely can't be happy with its current academic numbers.
Worst: 20. Ball State
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Team: Ball State Cardinals
Ball State had a very good season in 2012, finishing with a 9-4 overall record. However, the team did lose to UCF in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.
Still, the performance on the field last season was impressive. Now, if the squad can just match that in the classroom.
Worst: 19. USC
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Team: University of Southern California Trojans
USC has never considered itself an "average" anything. In fact, to say it was under average in anything would almost seem like college football blasphemy.
However, the team's GSR and APR are both below the average in the FBS.
Worst: 18. Kent State
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Team: Kent State Golden Flashes
With a team nickname like the Golden Flashes, you would expect them to shine on and off the field. Well, in the case of Kent State, half of that is true.
Last season, the Golden Flashes lost in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, but the team finished the season 11-3 and nearly pulled off the upset against Northern Illinois, losing in double overtime.
It was an incredible season on the field, but the classroom was still a struggle.
Worst: 17. Akron
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Team: University of Akron Zips
The Akron Zips went 1-11 last season. The only win the team had was against Morgan State.
Even though 1-11 is a horrible record, a GSR of 57 and an APR of 932 might be worse.
Worst: 16. Georgia Tech
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Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The highlight of a mediocre season in 2012 for the Yellow Jackets was the win over USC in the Sun Bowl.
The team finished the season off strong and should be in a position to do even better things in 2013. That is a lot like its academic issues.
Georgia Tech has a GSR of 55. That is the percentage that has accumulated over recent years. However, the APR is a very respectable 983. With a few more years of numbers like that, the Yellow Jackets will see their GSR climb.
Worst: 15. Florida State
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Team: Florida State Seminoles
Florida State had only two blemishes on its record last season. First, it lost two games. Second, it remains among the bottom 15 in graduation rate.
With just two losses last season and a very good team coming back this season, FSU fans have a lot to be happy about. However, the school can't be happy with these academic numbers.
Worst: 14. Houston
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Team: Houston Cougars
Houston is now a member of the old Big East—better known as the American Athletic Conference.
However, with a GSR of 55 and a horrible APR of 912, the team is bringing its new conference's average way down.
Worst: 13. South Carolina
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Team: South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina had a very good season in 2012. It finished 11-2 overall with a huge win over Michigan, 33-28, in the Outback Bowl.
However, the graduation rate for the team is only 55, and its latest APR is a dismal 912.
Worst: 12. Louisiana-Monroe
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Team: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
ULM had a pretty good team in 2012. The Warhawks went 8-5 overall and appeared in the Independence Bowl. It lost that game to Ohio, but the season had to be considered a huge success.
Now, it is time for the team to translate victories on the field to success in the classroom.
Worst: 11. Arkansas
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Team: Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas had high hopes in 2012. It had a preseason Top 10 ranking but finished the year a disappointing 4-8.
Fast forward one year, and there is a new energy in hog land.
With a new head coach in Bret Bielema, who came over from Wisconsin, the Razorbacks are poised to have an improved season. Let's just hope Bielema can get his players to improve their studies as much as their game.
Worst: 10. South Florida
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Team: South Florida Bulls
South Florida was a much better team than its 3-9 record in 2012. The team should do a bit better in 2013.
Its GSR of 53 is embarrassing, but with an APR of 970, it looks like things could turn around.
Worst: 9. Arizona
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Team: University of Arizona Wildcats
Arizona is a bit surprising at No. 9 on this list. Perhaps there is just too much sunshine in Tucson?
Worst: 8. Washington State University
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Team: Washington State Cougars
The school can somehow manage to get its flag to every ESPN College GameDay broadcast, but it can't improve its football graduation rate?
Worst: 7. Eastern Michigan
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Team: Eastern Michigan Eagles
These Eagles don't soar on the field or in the classroom. The team may be sore, however, after a 2-10 season in 2012.
Worst: 6. Florida Atlantic
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Team: Florida Atlantic Owls
The state of Florida offers a student-athlete plenty of distractions.
After a 3-9 record in 2012 and one of the worst APR and GSR combined rankings in the nation, something sure has the Owls' attention, and it doesn't seem to be football or school work.
Worst: 5. San Jose State
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Team: San Jose State Spartans
San Jose State is the first team on this countdown to have a GSR under 50.
It is not a distinction that the Spartans want, but with a decent APR of 963, it looks like the team is on the right track.
Worst: 4. Cal
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Team: University of California Golden Bears
The California Golden Bears have been a disappointment for their fans lately.
Last season, the team finished 3-9 overall. That included five straight Pac-12 Conference losses to finish the season.
Add to that a GSR of 48 and an APR of 935, and things aren't looking too golden for Cal.
Worst: 3. Oklahoma
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Team: Oklahoma Sooners
Bob Stoops is a good head coach.
Nearly every season he has his Sooners in contention for a conference title or, at the very least, a decent bowl game.
However, you have to wonder if a GSR of 47 is acceptable for such a storied program?
Worst: 2. Central Michigan
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Team: Central Michigan Chippewas
Central Michigan joins Eastern Michigan in the top 10 of a category no team wants to be in.
The Chippewas, however, did much better on the field than the Eagles in 2012. The team finished the season 7-6, including a win over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Bowl.
Worst: 1. Florida International
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Team: Florida International Golden Panthers
Florida International has the distinction of having the worst GSR in the FBS.
A GSR of 40 has to be a huge concern for the university. An APR of 930 indicates that not much seems to be improving, either.