Black athletes' graduation rate well below that of whites

By Steve Wieberg, USA TODAY

No matter how you crunch the numbers, college athletes' graduation rates raise the same concerns. The NCAA on Thursday released its second set of "graduation success rates," which lagged in men's basketball and football and particularly for black players in those high-stakes, high-profile sports.

Fewer than half the black basketball players who entered Division I schools on scholarship in the four-year period from 1995-98 earned degrees within six years. In I-A and I-AA football, blacks graduated at a modest 54% rate. It was 55% in I-A.

Both are well beneath the 76% rate for all athletes who arrived from high school or transferred from other colleges in that time.

Besides breaking down the rates by race, the latest study tracked the success of each Division I school in graduating all of its men's and women's athletes a measure that complimented Northwestern, Notre Dame and Clemson, among others, and was less flattering to such schools as Texas-El Paso, San Jose State and New Mexico State.

The NCAA issued a sport-by-sport breakdown in December.

The new graduation success rate differs from a federally computed rate released by the NCAA for 13 years that has long been criticized as inaccurate. The federal rate ignores transfers into a school and counts all those leaving as nongrads, regardless of whether they went on to get degrees elsewhere.

The NCAA rate takes incoming transfers into account. And it doesn't count outgoing transfers or players who leave school for any other reason, including a pro draft against schools if they leave in good academic standing. Both methods, however, show black athletes as less likely than whites to emerge from school with degrees.

Only 49% of the black men's basketball players who entered school on scholarship from '95-98 graduated within the allotted six years, the NCAA's new study found. The rate for white players was 76%. The sport's overall rate was 58%.

The 54% rate for black football players also was well beneath the 76% rate for whites. The overall rate in that sport was 64%.

Black athletes in all sports graduated at a 59% rate, white athletes at an 82% rate.

NCAA President Myles Brand said he was pleased with the overall numbers. "This is not Lake Wobegon, where every student-athlete and every team can be above average," he said. "The 50% rate, while not sacrosanct, is a good rate to measure whether we're making progress."

Other findings:

One school, Radford, graduated every scholarship athlete arriving from 1995-98. Next-best rates belong to Navy (99%), Notre Dame (98%) and Valparaiso (98%).

UTEP had the worst track record among the major football-playing schools, graduating 33% of its incoming 1998 class and 42% of its athletes arriving from 1995-98.

Radford, a Virginia school of about 9,200 in the Big South Conference, competes in every major sport except football and has about 300 athletes. It was listed with a 54% graduation rate for all students and 65% for athletes under the federal standard, but every athlete who left was academically eligible at the time, accounting for the NCAA's perfect rating.

Greig Denny, athletic director at Radford, told The Associated Press that it is "an important indicator of the direction and your commitment to the academic success of your student athletes."

Almost two dozen Division I schools reported Graduation Success Rates of at least 95% for athletes who enrolled from 1995 to 1998. All were higher than their general student populations and significantly higher than the rates reported by the federal government, according to NCAA figures released Thursday.

Other GSR averages included 69% for men, 86% for women and 68% for Hispanics.

Thursday's listing was the first school-by-school and gender and ethnic breakdown that also included federal graduation data and a comparison of the rates for athletes with the entire student bodies.

Brand said the federal rate is "somewhat flawed and conservative. ... I don't think anything surprised us, but the numbers are revealing."

For example, he pointed to baseball, where the NCAA rate was 18 percentage points higher than the federal rate.

"That indicates that Division I baseball players transfer a great deal," Brand said. "Not every team or sport will go up as a result of moving from federal rate to GSR, and those teams that go down are ones that probably brought in some transfer students who didn't graduate. We now have a way to track that."

At the other end of the scale, 13 schools, most of them historically black colleges in the South or Southwest, had a GSR below 50%.

Savannah State had the lowest, at 22%, followed by Florida A&M at 35%, Texas Southern at 36%, New Orleans at 38% and Norfolk State and Charleston Southern at 40%.

Chicago State was also among the poor-performing schools with a graduation rate of 54%.


"Clearly you're going to have to look at socio-economic backgrounds and particularly the quality of the high school they attended," Brand said of the black-white difference. "There may well be other factors, but we don't have the research to support that right now.

"What's important from our point of view is that those who participate in intercollegiate athletics, including black males, are doing better than their demographic cohort in the general student body."

The national graduation average for all Division I students, including non-athletes, was 59%.

A separate Academic Progress Report, which will trigger the first penalties under the NCAA's new academic reform package, are expected by late February or early March.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Best, worst of Division I


Schools with the highest and lowest NCAA "graduation success rates," tracking total number of scholarship athletes who arrived from high school or transferred in from other colleges from 1995-98:

The good
1. Radford 100%
2. Navy 99%
3. Notre Dame 98%
4. Valparaiso 98%

The rest of the best in I-A
Clemson 97%
Northwestern 97%
Duke 96%
Army 95%
Wake Forest 94%
Stanford 94%

The bad
1. Savannah State 22%
2. Florida A&M 35%
3. Texas Southern 36%
4. New Orleans 38%

The worst in I-A
Texas-El Paso 42%
UNLV 53%
Fresno State 56%
San Jose State 57%
Florida International 57%
New Mexico State 57%

Source: NCAA