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Black male athlete graduation rates remain substandard at major sports universities

Students walk near Sather Tower on the University of California at Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California.
Students walk near Sather Tower on the University of California at Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California.
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As March Madness approaches, college basketball fans are filling out their brackets and scheming ways to watch games that start before the work week ends. But at the University of Southern California, some researchers are focused on the other element of college sports: the college part.

A recent University of Southern California study found that, at most schools at issue in the assessment, black male student-athlete graduation rates remain lower than those of black male non-athletes, student athletes overall, and undergraduates overall. "There was a 14 percentage point gap between black male athletes and their teammates in graduation rate," according to Professor Shaun Harper, Executive Director of the USC Race and Equity Center. 

This inequality has slightly improved over the past two years, according to the report. On average, black male student athlete graduation has actually risen by 2.5 percentage points in that time, but remains at the back of the pack. Meanwhile, graduation matters for the vast majority of student athletes, because they are not as likely to have a future in professional sports as many assume. 

There is this myth that so many black men leave college to go to the NFL or the NBA. But the truth is that less than two percent of college student-athletes are actually drafted into the NBA or the NFL. 

Harper focused his study on 65 schools that comprise the following "Power Five" conferences:

These schools produce the most successful programs, not only in terms of wins and championships, but also economically. Harper focused on them to remove some noise from the discussion, notably from the NCAA: 

They say ... in a really celebratory way in television commercials that black male athletes graduate at higher rates in Division I than do their black male peers who are not athletes. That is a half truth. Sure, if we look across the entire Division I, and we look across all sports in Division I, absolutely, but if we look at the Power Five, the conferences that have the 65 universities that win just about everything ... that is far from true.  

Harper believes that the solution to this problem requires action from "cross-institutional actors" at the NCAA, conference and university levels, along with a new rule that limits participation in college playoffs based on graduation percentages. 

But Harper doesn't view his research as mutually exclusive from enjoying college sports as a fan. 

I am a huge lover of college football, but I am also a huge lover of racial equity.