National Edition

Helping black athletes graduate from college

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 4:00 a.m. MST

Clemson Tigers linebacker Stephone Anthony (42) celebrates with defensive end Corey Crawford (93) and linebacker Quandon Christian (34) after Anthony intercepted a pass thrown by Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Clemson defeated Ohio State 40-35.

Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

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Fans tuning into football bowl games this holiday season may not realize that a large percentage of the players they cheer for will never receive a degree from the universities that they represent on the field.

A report of the seven NCAA Division I sports conferences found that about half of all black male athletes won’t graduate within six years of starting college.

The report, by the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, rebuts an NCAA study from early 2013, which tabulated the graduation rates among black male athletes as having grown from 59 percent to 65 percent.

Some schools, like Florida State — with a 37 percent graduation rate among its black football players, according to the study — have decided to act on the new data. They’ve hired tutors and academic advisors for athletes while doubling the amount of money in academic support programs, said Florida State President Eric Barron.

Starting with admissions

Among the universities with top-ranking football programs, Stanford stood out with an 82 percent graduation rate among black football players.

The average college graduation rate (within six years) for all student-athletes is 67 percent, versus the black male athlete graduation rate of 50 percent. For all university students, over the same period, the average graduate rate is 73 percent, versus 56 percent for all black male students.

"Our student athletes typically have many college choices in addition to Stanford but come here because they want and value a Stanford degree,” said Stanford spokesman Brad Hayward. “They arrive motivated to finish."

Associate athletics director at Duke University Brad Berndt similarly believes that a successful graduation rate among black male athletes begins with the admissions process and coach involvement.

In the study, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education ranked Duke sixth of the top 10 schools with the highest graduation rates among black male athletes, at 73 percent. Their overall graduation rate for all their student athletes was 85 percent.

At Duke, if a potential student-athlete has the talent to perform in the sport of his choice but doesn’t have the drive to succeed academically or isn’t prepared, recruiters and administrators will pass over the student in favor of someone else, Berndt said. Even for coaches, he said, academic success is more important than athletic talent.

Academic support systems

Even some of the brightest student-athletes in college need help successfully juggling studies and a time-consuming sports career. Providing tutors, academic advisors and other support services to student-athletes are common practices at many universities.

Some schools take it a step further.

“We also work to ensure that student-athletes are integrated with the broader university community and are full participants in the undergraduate life of the university, which tends to improve the likelihood of academic success,” Stanford’s Hayward said.

Duke likewise pushes student-athletes, and new ones in particular, to fully integrate into undergraduate life. The university requires them to take two classes during the summer before the fall semester starts, letting them become acclimated to the new system of college academics and sports.

Negative long-term impacts

Just as both Stanford and Duke profess a belief that the successful career of a student-athlete begins with the admission process, they believe that the crux of the problem lies in admitting unprepared students.

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