Preparing for College

Graduation Rates of The Big Dancers

Have you been watching the seeming wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament? One can always tell when it's Big Dance season by listening for (mainly) older women in the supermarket complaining about their "stories" (a.k.a. soap operas) being bumped for b-ball. In the evenings during Dance season, it seems as though every push of your remote's channel-change button results in revealing yet another group of 10 men or women running up and down the hardwood.

It's a national mania. It's also a showcase for big and smaller colleges to show off their athletic programs. But what about the purpose of college? Aren't these gifted b-ballers supposed to be getting an education that will allow them to go out into the "real" world beyond the basketball court and find happiness and success in a meaningful life's work? (I know; that all sounds almost ridiculously idealistic, doesn't it?)


Anyway, there is increasing concern about how many NCAA b-ball players (and other NCAA sports' athletes) actually do graduate from their institutions of higher learning. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently called for the NCAA to impose stricter academic requirements on teams, saying schools that graduate less than half of their players should be banned from "post season glory." Yikes.

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While Sec. Duncan may be concerned about the sub-par graduation rates of a number of Dance participants, he shouldn't be concerned at all about such schools as Notre Dame, BYU, UNC, and Duke.

Even before the first tip-off in Round II of the NCAA Tournament, the University of Notre Dame has already been declared the winner. In a bracket contest developed by Education Sector, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education policy think tank, Notre Dame was ranked first based on the number of athletes who graduate or leave school in good academic standing.

Education Sector's brackets ranked the top 16 teams as seeded by the NCAA tournament committee on the basis of their graduation success rate or GSR. "We decided to use the GSR because it does not count players who transfer out or who leave to play professionally – as long as they are in good academic standing when they depart," says Education Sector Policy Analyst Chad Aldeman, who conducted the analysis. "That's important in this era of one-and-done players."

Notre Dame, with its impressive 100 percent GSR, was named the ultimate winner in the tournament.  Brigham Young University, however, also posted a 100 percent GSR. "We had to go to a tie-breaker in the battle between BYU and Notre Dame," Aldeman explains. "For this, we chose the school’s overall graduation rate, or the graduation rate of the 'fan base.' Notre Dame excels here as well, with a schoolwide graduation rate of over 90 percent and no significant gaps between different groups of students."

Two traditional rivals, the University of North Carolina, with a GSR of 88 percent, and Duke University, with a GSR of 83 percent, filled out the Final Four. At the same time, the University of Connecticut, with a 31 percent GSR, was eliminated in the first round. "UConn fans may be proud of their recent Big East title win, but their graduation rates are another story," says Aldeman.

The Education Sector analysis does note that while some of the nation's best basketball programs also promote academics, there is still much work to do. This week, the NCAA released a study showing that although graduation rates have increased across Division I basketball, there is still a 32 percent gap between white and black student athletes.

For more detail, check out Academics At The Big Dance.

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