Slam-dunk graduation rates

CorrespondentApril 7, 2010 

As a Duke fan, I'm still on Cloud Nine since my beloved Blue Devils held off a tough Butler team Monday night to win the Big Dance, otherwise known as the NCAA Division 1 men's basketball championship tournament.

Truth is, as a citizen, I would have been just as happy had Butler won. That's because both schools score high where the numbers really count - graduation rates. According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, Butler graduates 90 percent of its basketball athletes, while Duke hands a diploma to 92 percent of its hoops players. So in reality we were all watching winners Monday night. Duke just won a trophy.

As good as these two schools are at producing graduates who can play high-level basketball, six teams selected to the dance performed even better. Brigham Young, Marquette, Notre Dame, Utah State, Wake Forest and Wofford graduated every single player in their programs during the 2004 through 2008 academic years.

As they usually do, women players beat the men when it came to hitting the books. Nineteen programs, selected to the women's tournament - including UNC-Chapel Hill - achieved a 100 percent graduation rate. They include Stanford and Connecticut, the last two teams left standing. Both came close to perfection on the court as well. Before last night's championship game, the teams had just one loss between them, and that was when Connecticut beat Stanford in December.

Both tournaments were among the most exciting in memory. More importantly, they conclusively proved that a university doesn't need to sell its academic soul to field winning, exciting and profitable athletic programs.

In fact, collegiate basketball could become a laboratory of sorts on how to narrow the graduation gap between white and African-American students. Thanks in large part to reforms put in place by the late NCAA president Myles Brand, the days of a university failing to graduate a meaningful number of black athletes could be coming to a close.

No doubt, there are still significant white/African-American graduation disparities, particularly among the men. The average difference for programs in this year's tournament was 28 percentage points. In nine instances, the discrepancy was 60 points or better, and one of those schools was Clemson.

Just as embarrassing, Georgia Tech and Maryland's graduation rates for both races were among the worst in the tournament, a matter that should be addressed by the Atlantic Coast Conference, which supposedly prides itself on high academic standards.

But there are also men's programs in which African-Americans are on par or outperform their white teammates in graduation rates. They include Duke, Northern Iowa, Oakland and Xavier.

Greater lessons can be learned from the women's programs. This year, the graduation gap for programs in the big dance narrowed to a mere 12 points. The graduation rate for white female players was up 1 point to 90 percent, while African-American players gained 3 points, to 78 percent.

The locals had an even more impressive performance. As noted, UNC-Chapel Hill had a 100 percent graduation rate among its black women players, while Duke came in at 86 percent and N.C. State at 82 percent. The men weren't too shabby either. Black Duke basketball players graduate at an 89 percent clip and in the 2009 study, the UNC men's program has an 80 percent graduation rate.

Hey, here's an idea.

Maybe the Wake County school board, the state NAACP and their allies could stop bickering over the diversity policy long enough to have Sylvia Hatchell and Roy Williams (UNC), Joanne P. McCallie and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) and Kellie Harper (N.C. State) over for a chat. I realize they're just athletic coaches and not education experts. But as good as these folks are at winning basketball games, they're even better at graduating minority students from rigorous academic programs.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and

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