Black Athletes Closing Graduation Gap

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.6, August 2006,

According to a new study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, today’s NCAA Division I African-American basketball players are more likely to earn a degree than African-American non-athletes and more likely to graduate than their basketball-playing counterparts a generation ago. And though a graduation gap remains between blacks and whites, it has narrowed since 1984, when Proposition 48, the NCAA’s first major change in academic eligibility, took effect.

“This data indicates that athletic departments may be doing a better job in creating an environment for success for African-American student-athletes than institutions of higher education are in general,” says Richard Lapchick, Director of the Institute and the author of the study.

Lapchick credits the improvements to universities putting more resources into student-athlete support services, attention from coaches and counselors, and athletes’ own hard work and focus. “Our athletic departments bring together a disproportionately larger percent of African-Americans than the general student body, making them feel part of something bigger,” says Lapchick. “Also, they play on a team where race and other differences cannot matter if the team is going to meet its goals.

“This is good news to build on in the future,” continues Lapchick. “We need to stay on this to make it keep working.”

In the study’s most significant findings:

• The graduation rate for all African-American student-athletes increased from 35 percent in 1984 to 52 percent for the cohort that entered college in 1998, as compared with 59 percent of white student-athletes in 1984 and 66 percent of white athletes in 1998.

• Over that same period, the graduation rate for male African-American student-athletes rose from 33 percent to 48 percent, and the graduation rate for female African-American student-athletes improved from 45 percent to 63 percent.

At Wake Forest University, which graduated all of its male basketball players from the entering class of 1998, weeding out prospects who aren’t serious about school is an important part of the process. But the key, says Head Coach Skip Prosser, is showing that academics are paramount and that even those who come with less-than-stellar high school backgrounds can succeed.

“Sometimes you have to force-feed success to them with mandatory study halls, mandatory tutorial sessions, and the like,” Prosser says. “There are kids who go to class slump-shouldered, with the hood of their sweatshirt up, ducking and hiding in corners academically. But once they get a little taste of academic success, their self-esteem is raised to an extremely high level. They find it’s okay to succeed academically and that they’re very capable of doing so.”

For downloadable results of the study, see NSAD_2006_Study_Grad_Rate_Improvements.pdf.