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Colleges Need to Improve Academic Success of Athletes, Studies Show

Recent studies of NCAA programs suggest that colleges need to do more to ensure their student-athletes graduate, rather than simply generate revenue and attention for their schools. The NewsHour takes a closer look at the issue.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    On the court, they have the skills. They dribble; they dunk; and they bring out the school spirit.

    But off the court, there's been a long history of academic underachievement in men's NCAA basketball. The teams making up this year's Final Four arrived in Atlanta, as the annual fever known as March Madness reaches its climax.

    This weekend won't be about test scores and passing grades, but a new study examining the graduation rates for participating schools released by the University of Central Florida presents some good and bad news.

    It found that, of the 65 schools participating in this year's tournament, just 24 institutions graduated at least 70 percent of players in recent years. Some schools in the NCAA tournament graduated less than one in five players, or 20 percent, including the University of Tennessee and the University of Maryland. Ohio State, a contender for the championship this year, has a 38 percent graduation rate.

    But there are some schools that are excelling. The College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, the University of Florida — another of the remaining title contenders — and Weber State University all graduated 100 percent of their male basketball athletes.

    The study also revealed that white athletes are graduating in much higher numbers than their black colleagues in NCAA schools.

    In 2001, a study by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics recommended that, by this year, 2007, teams that did not graduate at least 50 percent of their players should not be eligible for championship play.

    And for more on how athletes are doing off the court, I'm joined by Richard Lapchick, the lead author of the new study. And he's director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.

    And Kevin Blackistone, a freelance sportswriter who appears on ESPN, NPR and other outlets, he has reported widely on college athletics.

    Well, Richard Lapchick, you've been watching this problem for years with some concern. Where do things stand now?

    RICHARD LAPCHICK, Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports: Well, the good news is that, when the Knight Commission said 50 percent should be the measure to be eligible for the tournament, only 28 percent of the teams would have met that standard in 2001. This year, 64 percent of the teams graduated better than 50 percent of their basketball-playing student athletes.

    There's been a gradual increase in the graduation rates for basketball players in general. The bad news here is that nearly 49 percent of those teams in the tournament had a gap of 30 percent or more between the graduation rates of their African-American players and their white players.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Kevin Blackistone, how do you see it, emphasize the glass half-full, half-empty, how do you see it?

  • KEVIN BLACKISTONE, Freelance Sportswriter:

    Well, I think it's half-empty, and the reason is because it's the mission of higher education to educate people, hopefully provide them with a certification of that education, which is a diploma, and hopefully a validation of what they've learned by being able to get employed once they leave.

    And, obviously, what this shows is that there is a disconnect between college athletics and what that mission statement in higher education really is. And, as Richard pointed out, things have gotten better, probably because schools feel somewhat behooved now to do a better job in terms of graduating their student athletes, simply because there's a lot more pressure being put on them to do so.

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