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 www.fitinfotech.com.

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