Northwestern University, the 20th-ranked college football team in the nation, won’t win a national title on the field this year. But the Wildcats are first in the classroom, according to the “Academic BCS,” the New America Foundation’s annual academic performance rankings of the top-25 college football teams.
Northwestern’s top finish is not surprising. But the New America Foundation’s second-best academic team, Northern Illinois — which finished ahead of schools like Notre Dame, which will play for the national championship on Jan. 7 against Alabama, and Stanford — is a more curious case. The Huskies, who earned a bid to the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl, are a surprise both on and off the field.
How did Northern Illinois finish so high? The New America rankings are not just based on raw statistics like graduation rates or the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, which indicate how well a team is keeping its players on track to graduate. If that were the case, a school such as Notre Dame, which graduates 83% of its players, according to federal data, would finish well above Northern Illinois, which has a 66% rate.