The University of Washington and Washington State University boast impressive athlete-graduation rates. They should take what they've learned and apply the best lessons to all students in need of academic and social support.

Share story

Forget about the final score at Friday’s Apple Cup, the Huskies and Cougars are competitive in another arena: the classroom. Athletes at both the University of Washington and Washington State University are winning the most important challenge of their college careers: Most are likely to graduate.

According to newly released data collected by the NCAA, student athletes at the UW graduate at one of the highest rates in the nation — 89 percent within six years of starting college. That’s impressive, especially considering the 6-year graduation rate for all UW students is 84 percent.

Perhaps one of the best reasons for students to pursue sports in college, right next to earning a scholarship, is the increased chance of earning a college degree. This is especially true for women athletes. According to the NCAA, which tracks student-athlete graduation rates, only one women’s college sport nationally has not reached a 90 percent graduation rate — bowling.

Graduation rates have been increasing steadily since the NCAA began tracking this data, and the trends are particularly encouraging for black and Hispanic students.

Nationwide, between 2002 and 2018, black male athletes have increased their graduation rates by 24 percentage points and black women athletes have increased their graduation rates by 15 percentage points. During the same time period, Hispanic athletes have increase their graduation rates by 21 percentage points overall.

In four men’s sports, UW athletes beat the national graduation rate by several percentage points, including outstanding results in football and men’s basketball. But the women athletes at UW are the real scholars, beating the national average in nearly every sport, from track to soccer.

Although UW is a real standout in graduating its student athletes, Washington State University also boasts an impressive athlete-graduation rate of 81 percent. In two men’s sports and two women’s sports, WSU athletes beat the national graduation rate.

The NCAA’s renewed emphasis on college graduation as a goal for all student athletes has universities working hard to make sure student athletes succeed.

UW football coach Chris Petersen likes to say that his players possess a GPA above 3.0. The ideal UW player, according to Petersen, is a hardworking student and athlete. Before the season started this fall, Petersen described a Husky football player as “a guy … that understands the importance of school. Doesn’t have to love it, but understands he’s going to do it and grind it.”

And in return for that hard work, the UW does whatever it can to help that student athlete succeed, including tutoring, life skills coaching, academic and career advising, psychological counseling and close monitoring of their progress toward earning a degree.

The fact that colleges are seeing such success suggests that they should take what they’ve learned and apply the best lessons to all students in need of academic and social support.

College is challenging, especially for those students who are the first in their family to seek a higher education. If Washington state and the nation want to see college graduation rates improve, it’s clear that more effort must be focused on academic and social support for all students.