Graduation Rates, Racial Gap Increase

March 17, 2011

When college basketball fans fill out their 2011 NCAA Tournament brackets, they rely on a team’s on-court performance throughout the season to assist them in making their predictions. But what if fans placed greater importance on teams’ academic graduation rates rather than their basketball prowess?

Each year, Inside Higher Education creates a bracket to showcase what the results would be like if schools advanced in the NCAA Tournament based solely on their academic progress rates (APR) with any ties broken using the school’s graduation rate. Based on their findings, Princeton (996), Kansas (1,000, a perfect score), Texas (1,000), and Butler (1,000) would be in this year’s Final Four with Texas and Butler playing in the national championship game.

According to the Graduation Success Rates (GSR), 42 teams in this year’s 68-team field graduated 60% or better of their players and 32 teams graduated at least 70%. However, seven teams had graduation rates of less than 40%, with the lowest being Arizona (20%), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (25%), Connecticut (31%), and Temple (33%).

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida releases the annual study detailing the NCAA Tournament schools’ graduation rates. Their findings for this year’s teams shows that graduation rates are improving overall, with both white and African-American student-athletes graduating at a higher rate than last year. White student-athletes for this year’s NCAA Tournament teams have a 90% graduation rate, while African-Americans have a 58% graduation rate.

Although the graduation rates for both African-American and white college basketball players continues to rise, the disparity of the rates between African-American and white student-athletes increased by 4% since last year. The staggering gap of 32% has increased 10% since 2009.

“For years we have noted the deeply troubling disparity between the GSR of African-American and white men’s basketball student-athletes,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of TIDES. “While the actual graduation rates of African-American basketball student-athletes continue to increase, the gap increased to 32 percentage points! An ESPN poll conducted for Martin Luther King Day this year indicated that the greatest concern of both whites and African-Americans in the general public was this disparity. Hopefully that concern will generate new resources to address this problem.”

While this gap may seem disturbing, compared to African-American men in the general student population, the graduation rate of NCAA Tournament-bound African-American student-athletes is much higher. Despite that widening gap, there are five schools in this year’s NCAA Tournament that have higher graduation rates for African-American players than white players, those schools being Boston University (100%/80%), Northern Colorado (100%/78%), Old Dominion (50%/33%), Pittsburgh (60%/50%), and North Carolina-Ashville (rates n/a).

TIDES also released graduation rates for teams in this year’s women’s NCAA Tournament. As has historically been the case, the 2011 report revealed that women’s basketball teams had a higher overall graduation rate than men’s basketball teams. A graduation rate of 70% or higher was achieved by 91% of women’s teams, compared to 49% of men’s teams who achieved that benchmark. What is the reason for this?

“I think for women athletes and basketball players the emphasis is on balancing academic and athletic performance,” Lapchick said. “Coaches and everybody involved advising the women have pushed positive academic success. That’s become a tradition in women’s sports. But there are some of the same people advising both men’s and women’s teams on these campuses. So there’s a sort of academic challenge there, too. For me the next step is to hold up the women as a model of what we can do.”

Dr. Richard Lapchick is a forerunner in the fight for racial equality in sports and “the racial conscience of sport.” He co-authored the books 100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport, 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened the Doors for Future Generations, 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport, and 150 Heroes: People in Sport Who Make This a Better World. All four books are published by Fitness Information Technology and are available at


Study Reveals NCAA Teams Lagging in Grad Rates

March 19, 2010

With the majority of sports fans now fully immersed in March Madness, the point totals aren’t the only interesting scores revealed regarding the 65 teams that earned an invite into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and its director, Dr. Richard Lapchick, have released their annual report on the graduation rate of each team playing in the Big Dance. And while this year’s results are no more troublesome than most years, it’s a comment from the U.S. Secretary of Education that has created a bit of controversy.

Arne Duncan stated that he believed that basketball programs that didn’t have at least a 40% graduation success rate should not be allowed to compete in the annual championship tournament.

“Frankly, that’s a low bar, and not many teams would be ineligible,” said Duncan, who played college basketball at Harvard and professionally overseas. “Over time, we should set a higher bar. But it’s a minimum, a bright line, which every program should meet to vie for postseason honors.”

If that benchmark was applied this year, there would be 12 teams that would have been denied an opportunity to be featured in CBS Sports’s “One Shining Moment” montage. One of those programs is the University of Tennessee, and Volunteer coach Bruce Pearl didn’t hold back when asked to provide his thoughts on the Secretary’s remarks.

“I don’t mind reminding the Secretary that one of the greatest disservices that take place in our country is the difference in secondary education,” said Pearl, whose program had a 30% graduation rate. “If you want to fix it, fix it at the high school level, at the middle school level, at the elementary school level.”

While Pearl’s comments regarding the failures of secondary education do have some merit, universities and the coaches that collect million-dollar paychecks should shoulder some of the culpability. Consider the fact that the University of Maryland has an 8% graduation rate. The others below 40% are Arkansas Pine-Bluff (29%), Baylor (36), California (20), Clemson (37), Georgia Tech (38), Kentucky (31), Louisville (38), Missouri (36), New Mexico State (36), Tennessee (30), and Washington (29).

On the flip side, it should be noted that 21 teams had a graduation rate of 80% or better, with perfect percentages possessed by BYU, Marquette, Notre Dame, Utah State, Wake Forest, and Wofford.

In order to calculate the graduation success rates, The Institute calculated the average of the four most recent classes (with six years given to each class to graduate). The years reviewed included freshman classes of 1999‐00, 2000‐01, 2001‐02, and 2002‐03.

What is even more troubling to Lapchick is the disparity of graduation success rates among African-American and white male basketball players. White male basketball student-athletes on NCAA tournament teams had an 84% graduation rate compared to 56% for African-American male basketball players on the same squads, a disparity of 28%.

According to the Institute’s release, Lapchick emphasized that, “African‐American male and female basketball players graduate at a higher rate than African‐American males and females who are not student‐athletes. The graduation rate for African‐American male students as a whole is only 38%, versus the overall rate of 62% for male white students, which is a huge 24 percentage point gap. Our predominantly white campuses too often are not welcoming places for students of color, whether or not they are athletes.”

Lapchick is one of the foremost champions of racial issues in sport. He recently co-authored 100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport, and subsequently published 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened Doors for Future Generations. A forthcoming title is 100 Campeones, which honors prominent Latin Americans who influenced sport. All three books are published by Fitness Information Technology and are available at