2023 Bylaw Update: Graduate Student Eligibility

Key Takeaways for Graduate Students’ Eligibility

  1. Graduate student eligibility will now be rolled into a new eligibility section – Article V, Section E, Item 1 and Item 3, “Post-Baccalaureate Student”.
  2. A student no longer loses their eligibility at the end of the week the student graduates with an undergraduate degree. A student-athlete that finishes their degree in one term and has been certified eligible to compete will have the same 30 days as all other continuing student-athletes to be recertified to compete in the following term.
  3. A graduate student being certified in their first term in graduate school will not be held to the 24/36-Hour Rule in the previous two semesters or three quarter terms of attendance. Graduate students will have an automatic override of the 24/36-Hour Rule when being certified through ECP.
  4. After the first term of attendance in graduate school, a student must successfully pass the full time credit load of the graduate program within the term in order to maintain eligibility. A student cannot get back into good standing by using non-term credits.
  5. By way of earning a baccalaureate degree, a graduate student (or student pursuing a second baccalaureate degree) will no longer have to show proof of meeting all accumulated credit under the Progress Rule. However, the GPA requirement under the Progress Rule will still stand.
  6. A student who graduates with a baccalaureate degree and wishes to transfer are no longer held to the requirement of pursuing a graduate degree or post-graduate certificate. A student can transfer and pursue a second baccalaureate degree.
  7. Graduate students now have the ability to take advantage of the “senior exception”. Previously, under Article V, Section C, Item 3, only students who were pursuing a baccalaureate degree could evoke the “senior exception” where they can enroll in less than 12 institutional credit hours at the time of participation if the registrar can confirm the student is enrolled in all the remaining credits needed to graduate in the degree. This exception could only be used once for undergraduate degrees. Now, moving into the 2023 academic year, the exception can be extended to graduate students. A graduate student can enroll in less than the full time credit hours needed for the graduate program if the student will be graduating with their degree in the term in which the exception is evoked.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: What is the reasoning behind distinguishing undergraduate eligibility and graduate eligibility like this?   

A: Early eligibility standards in the NAIA started with the philosophy that a student exhausted their eligibility when they earned their baccalaureate degree (in addition to the limits of 10 semesters/15 quarters maximum terms of attendance and four seasons of competition). Before 2016, graduate students were only allowed to compete if they had earned their baccalaureate degree at the same NAIA institution where they pursued graduate work. A bylaw amendment passed in 2016 acknowledged graduate students on a larger scale by allowing students to transfer and compete at a different institution with the requirement that they must be pursuing a graduate program at the new institution. This was treated as an exception to the continuing eligibility requirements. 

Now in 2023, more than ever students have growing opportunities to pursue graduate certificates and programs. The general consensus is that it is no longer viewed as an a termination of eligibility when a student has earned their baccalaureate degree. Therefore, the NEC wished to change the perception that pursuing a graduate degree was an “exception” to continuous eligibility and more of an acknowledgement that this is an additional avenue to continue eligibility in the NAIA. The reorganization also permits more clarity for students and staff in understanding the options and requirements to competing as a post-baccalaureate student.

Q: Has the NAIA defined a post-baccalaureate degree before?  

A: No. In order to be clear on the avenues to continue eligibility after earning the first baccalaureate degree, the sponsors felt it would be helpful to define what “post-baccalaureate” is in order to outline further eligibility standards. Under this definition, post-baccalaureate refers to any additional degree pursuit or professional coursework that comes after a student earns a baccalaureate degree; it does not require the additional coursework to be advanced above the level of a baccalaureate degree.

Q: There are big sections of Article V, Section C, Item 3 that are struck out. Will a student be able to utilize the senior exception still?  

A: Yes. This change specific to V.C.3 is to clean up the language of how a student may continue their eligibility by identifying in a graduate program. The language that is struck does appear in the new post-baccalaureate section. The remaining wording will still focus solely on the student’s ability to enroll in fewer than 12 institutional credit hours in their last term of baccalaureate work and still be allowed to compete.  

Q: What is the key difference in the new language for Article V, Section C, Item 14 (the bylaw that discusses when to recertify)? Are students who are graduating still losing eligibility at the end of the week in which they graduate? 

A: No. Students who earn their baccalaureate degree will not automatically lose eligibility within the NAIA. A student who graduates can be allowed to continue to compete and will not lose eligibility at the end of the week of graduation, noting that their peers have 30 days to be recertified under the same bylaw application.  

Q: Are students who are pursuing a second baccalaureate degree considered post-baccalaureate students as well?  

A: Yes. According to the new definition introduced in the first part of the proposal, a post-baccalaureate student will include students pursuing a second undergraduate degree or second major area of study. The distinction of “post”-baccalaureate refers to timing, not the level of coursework.

Q: What does it mean to pursue a second major area of study? 

A: As it pertains to the second major area of study, a student must be pursuing a second major area of student that equates to another baccalaureate degree program. The student cannot be pursuing an associate’s degree, a minor, or a separate area of concentration within the same degree program. The hours in the second major should be a different academic path/area of study from the student’s original degree program. 

Q: In Exception 1 under Article V, Section D, item 5, the previous language states a student can pursue a second baccalaureate degree and continue to compete as long as they are staying at the same NAIA institution in which they earned their first baccalaureate degree. Is this still applicable?  

A: No. The intent behind striking those exceptions is to open up the ability for a student to pursue any option of post-baccalaureate degrees regardless of whether or not they stay at their original NAIA institution or transfer to another NAIA institution. With this proposal, a student would be able to graduate with an undergraduate degree, transfer to another NAIA institution, and pursue a second undergraduate degree or second major area of study.   

Q: What if a student is accepted into a graduate program, but they have at least one undergraduate course they need to take as a prerequisite for future graduate work? Can they enroll in the minimum credit load required for the graduate program? 

A: A student who is accepted in a graduate program may utilize undergraduate-level courses for identification if the institution requires the student to enroll in these courses as prerequisites for graduate coursework. Upon certification from the school’s registrar that the student is officially considered a graduate student by the school (not as an undergraduate who will become a graduate student if she completes the requirements, or as a provisional admit into the graduate school), the student can be eligible by taking the undergraduate courses certified by the registrar as being required for the graduate program. However, since all or part of the student’s load will include undergraduate institutional credit, the student must meet and maintain the 12-hour requirement even if some of the courses are graduate level. 

Q: In the bylaw proposal, the language states “the registrar must verify that the above conditions have been met prior to participation.” How should a registrar show that they have verified the enrollment information for the student and certified them appropriately?  

A: This will be done through the ECP process. When a registrar signs the certificate, they are verifying all academic information include therein is correct and in line with the institution’s academic requirements and NAIA eligibility requirements. No further statements or records need to be made aside from the registrar’s signature on the ECP certificate.  

Q: Under the section for Article V, Section E, Item 3, it states, “to maintain eligibility status, the student must successfully complete a full-time class load as defined by the institution.” It then references “analogous to Article V, Section C, Item 6.” But V.C.6 is the 24/36-Hour Rule. Our graduate program does not require students to enroll in 12 credit hours. Will they be ineligible for the 24/36-Hour Rule?  

A: In the NEC’s estimation, the requirement that a student successfully complete the full-time class load as defined by the institution in order to maintain eligibility will hold the student to a stronger standard than the 24/36-Hour Rule. Therefore, it is not necessary to apply the actual 24/36-Hour Rule for graduate students who have identified for one term. They will, however, be required to successfully complete the full-time credit load to continue to compete in a subsequent term. Note that if the student fails to satisfy the entire full-time graduate course load in their most previous term of attendance, summer hours will not be able to be used so make up for the discrepancy in credits.   

Q: A student completes nine hours as required by the graduate program, but three hours were finished with a D. The graduate program requires the student pass all courses with a C. Will the student maintain eligibility for the next term? 

A:  No. The bylaw states that the student must successfully complete the full-time class load and three credits were not successfully completed per the requirements of the graduate program. Therefore the student did not successfully complete the required hours and the student will not be eligible for the following term. 

Q: Can a student use summer school in this situation to gain eligibility for the following term?

A: No. The student must earn all credit within the academic term. Summer is not considered a term of attendance. Therefore, credit earned outside of the graduate term will not meet the requirements of “successfully complet(ing) the full-time class load”.

Q: The bylaw states that the registrar must verify that all conditions set forth in the bylaws are being met prior to the student participating. How does the registrar show they have verified this?

A: This will be done through the Eligibility Certification Process (ECP) by way of the registrar signing the certificate. By signing the ECP certificate, the registrar and all parties involved in signing the ECP certificate are attesting that the student-athletes are currently meeting all NAIA eligibility.

Q: The graduate student section mentions how to meet eligibility that is “analogous to Article V, Section C, Item 9,” which is the Progress Rule. But this section only refers to the GPA component and not the total accumulated hours. How many credit hours would a graduate student need to accumulate in order to maintain eligibility?  

A: In the NEC’s estimation, a student who has reached the point of post-baccalaureate work has accumulated a significant amount of coursework and has shown they’ve made normal progress towards a degree. The proposal does not require a postbaccalaureate student to show a particular number of requisite hours have been accumulated with the corresponding season of competition.