A Closer Look: NAIA and NCAA DIII

What’s the difference between NAIA and NCAA DIII? This is a commonly asked question by institutions trying to determine the best athletic affiliation for their school. While many of the demographics for top performing schools in the NAIA and the NCAA are similar, there are some key differences that set the NAIA apart.

  • DIII schools spend 70% more than NAIA schools to offer quality athletic programs.
  • NAIA schools spend significantly less to be nationally competitive. The median athletics operating budget difference between the NAIA Top 100 Directors’ Cup schools and all NAIA members was $300,000. For DIII schools, the difference was $1.1 million.

What does all this mean? NAIA members are on a more level playing field financially, competitively, and enrollment-wise. Schools don’t have to be the biggest or have the deepest pockets to experience success in the NAIA. The focus is where it should be – on maximizing your Return on Athletics®.


NAIA Institutions

NAIA Institutions Enrollment Student-Athletes Operating Budget Total Budget Endowment
75th percentile 1,566 397 $2.3 MM $5.2 MM $88.2 MM
Median (50th) 1,013 273 $1.6 MM $3.2 MM $40.3 MM
 MMth percentile 676 158 $1.0 MM $1.8 MM $23.3 MM

NAIA Director's Cup

NAIA Directors’ Cup Median Enrollment Median Op. Budget Median Total Budget Median Endowment
Top 25 1,459 $2.2 MM $4.5 MM $86.8 MM
Top 50 1,267 $2.2 MM $4.4 MM $47.2 MM
Top 100 1,089 $1.9 MM $3.6 MM $39.5 MM

NCAA DIII Institutions

NCAA DIII Institutions Enrollment Student-Athletes Operating Budget Total Budget* Endowment
75th percentile 2,805 576 $3.7 MM N/A $313.1 MM
Median (50th) 1,764 418 $2.8 MM N/A $130.3 MM
25th percentile 1,157 292 $1.6 MM N/A $61.8 MM

NCAA DIII Director's Cup

NCAA DIII Directors’ Cup Median Enrollment Median Op. Budget Median Total Budget* Median Endowment
Top 25 5,113 $5.3 MM N/A $1.3 B
Top 50 2,966 $4.6 MM N/A $489.0 MM
Top 100 2,283 $3.9 MM N/A $222.2 MM

*NCAA DIII schools report operating budgets only. These amounts do not include financial aid awarded to students that participate in athletics.

Source of the data includes EADA, IPEDs, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Guide Star.


Download Closer Look (DII) PDF



President Jim Carr appeared on the Success Is A Choice podcast and discussed what sets the NAIA apart from the NCAA. Click here to listen.