When the University of Connecticut beat Butler to win the NCAA championship, they brought down the curtain on an unusually exciting men’s college basketball tournament. But one aspect of the tournament was entirely predictable: The handwringing about the low-graduation rates for many basketball programs. While graduation rates for student athletes are improving, poor outcomes remain a serious problem. In this year’s tournament, only 42 of the 68 teams graduated at least 60 percent of their players, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. The winning Connecticut Huskies have a 31 percent graduation rate for basketball players.
The attention to low-graduation rates among some athletic programs should not distract us from the more systemic problem of low graduation rates for college students overall. President Obama has challenged us to “win the future” in part by improving college completion and more students are going to college now than did a few decades ago. Unfortunately only about 57 percent complete a degree within six years. Among those choosing two-year colleges the completion rate is only about 30 percent. Most stunning are gaps in completion by income. In 1972 thirty-eight percent of high-income Americans earned a bachelor’s degree by age 24. Now, 82 percent do. Among low-income students, however, that figure was 7 percent in 1972 and it’s 8 percent now.