Graduation rates for black athletes increase in study

`Steady progress' noted over 15-year period



A study conducted by a Florida campus think tank has found considerable improvement in graduation rates among African-American student-athletes over a 15-year period, from 35 percent in the group that entered college in 1984 to 52 percent for the entering group in 1998.

"The good news is the increase," said Freeman Hrabowski, the president of UMBC. "The bad news is that the baseline was so low. We still have plenty of work to do."

The study was conducted by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. It compares two specific groups, but a positive trend is discernible, according to Richard Lapchick, the director of the institute.

"We did look at all intervening classes, and there is steady progress," Lapchick said. "This is good news for college sport."

Among male African-American athletes, the graduation rate improved from 33 percent to 48 percent. Among females, it jumped from 45 percent to 63 percent. In that same period, the graduation rate of white athletes increased from 59 percent to 66 percent. Only scholarship athletes were tracked.

Lapchick's study used the most recent Federal Graduation Rate data, which showed that UMBC was a leader in graduating African-American athletes, with a 79 percent success rate.

Using the more forgiving Graduation Success Rate recently adopted by the NCAA, the graduation rate for African-American athletes improves to 59 percent for the 1998 group.

The study covered an era that encompassed a controversial overhaul of freshman eligibility standards. Guidelines that in the 1980s relied heavily on standardized assessment scores were overturned and replaced by a current sliding standard in which an SAT score of lower than 820 can be offset by good high school grades.

The NCAA also has instituted academic progress rules to ensure the pursuit of degrees.

"You not only have to be eligible to play, you have to be moving toward a degree, all while competing for a team," Morgan State athletic director Floyd Kerr said. "Those are two parallel tracks, and they both have to be going in the same direction to get you where you want to go."

Lapchick cited other factors.

Athletic powerhouses are occasionally shamed into action by graduation rate report cards, disseminated by Lapchick, on programs in football bowl games and the NCAA basketball tournament. On some campuses, African-Americans are disproportionately represented in athletic departments, which are devoting more resources to academic advising.

Anton Goff, an assistant athletic director at the University of Maryland, is one of 14 full-time employees who tend to the academic support of about 700 athletes. He said that in the late 1990s, his department had 10 full-time employees.

"Our athletic departments may be doing a better job in creating an environment for success for African-American students," Lapchick wrote in his study, "than our institutions of higher education are in general."

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