Despite having teams from six institutions declared ineligible for the 2016-17 postseason, HBCUs have made significant progress in their NCAA-administered Academic Progress Rate (APR) overall.
An NCAA press release noted "The single-year APR for HBCUs increased from 918 to 956 in the last five years, with many schools benefitting from NCAA programs designed to support academic improvements. This far outpaces the overall APR increase of six points in the same time period".
North Carolina Central University and Jackson State University were highlighted in the release for their use of NCAA grants to address their APR programs which helped pay for benefits like summer school for incoming freshmen, the expansion of academic support staff and new software to track students academically.
NCCU is one of the schools that has seen its team APR numbers improve from the low 900s (some of its teams were as low as the 800s) in 2008-09 to the mid-to-high 900s in the most recent release. Several Eagle athletics teams earned a perfect 1,000.
Etienne Thomas, associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at North Carolina Central, said the turnaround wasn’t due to one particular decision or moment. Instead, she credits a variety of changes that underscored the school’s commitment to the academic success of all its students, an attitude that began with the school’s president and was supported at every level.
“It doesn’t mean everything is always perfect, but we are communicating and everybody has the same goal -- from the chancellor and the provost down to the coach,” Thomas said.
Genese Lavalais, associate athletics director for academics at Jackson State University, which has seen a turnaround similar to North Carolina Central, said her school employed many of the strategies that worked at North Carolina Central. Presidential oversight and involvement from outside athletics were key to its success as well.
Jackson State also found it was important to motivate student-athletes. The school allows them to take up to 19 hours per term, and the athletics staff encourages them to take a heavier course load each term.
“We put them in the frame of mind that they can do it,” Lavalais said. “We believe in them and push them and make sure the campus team is behind them as well. We tell them up front you can leave here in five years with two degrees, but you have to make sure you are putting yourself in a position to make the scholarship work for you. … We are constantly motivating them. We want you to be successful as a student-athlete. And you can do both if you prioritize".
In addition to the release on APR success, the NCAA also released a listing of schools facing sanctions for not meeting APR standards.
In order to compete in the 2016-17 postseason, teams must achieve a 930 four-year APR. NCAA member representatives chose the 930 standard because that score predicts a 50 percent graduation rate for the team. Additionally, teams must earn at least a 930 APR to avoid penalties.
Twenty-three teams in Division I will be ineligible for the postseason in 2016-17 due to their low APR. All but one of those teams are at HBCUs.
Football teams from Florida A&M, Howard, Morgan State, Savannah State and Southern University will not be eligible for the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.
Men's basketball teams from Alcorn State and Savannah State along with the women's basketball squad from Southern University have also been ruled ineligible for 2016-17 postseason play.