Graduation gap persists among U of M student-athletes


According to the NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) report released October 27, the U of M claimed a record-high 79 percent graduation rate (GSR) for its student-athletes, which matches the 79 percent national GSR for Division I student-athletes. However, a closer analysis by the MSR of GSR data on the NCAA website found that U of M Black student-athletes’ graduation rate remains significantly lower than that for Whites: 

  • Football: 77 percent graduation rate for Whites compared to 43 percent for Blacks
  • Women’s basketball: 75 percent graduation rate for Whites compared to 67 percent for Blacks
  • Men’s basketball: 50 percent graduation rate for Blacks; no comparable data reported for Whites

The NCAA explains that a graduation rate (percent) is based on a comparison of the number of students who entered a college or university and the number of those who graduated within six years. The annual GSR report is based on data provided by the institutions.

The graduation rates for Black U of M student-athletes are also below the 64-percent average for all Black student-athletes nationwide, the NCAA points out. Furthermore, only 44 percent of Black student-athletes are graduating compared to 67 percent of White student-athletes and 68 percent of all U of M students. 

While NCAA officials claim that Black student-athletes’ graduation rates have steadily improved over the nine years of collecting GSR data, Minnesota continues to lag behind even as U of M officials boast about a record overall student-athlete graduation rate. Asked why Minnesota’s Black student-athletes’ graduation rates seem not to have shown comparable improvement, McNamara Academic Center interim director Lynn Holleran said during a phone interview October 29, “I think the university as a whole is particularly interested in raising graduation rates for African American student-athletes, and African American students as a whole.”

The graduation rate difference between Minnesota Black and White football players is 34 percentage points – second worst among the 11 Big Ten schools after Indiana’s 35-point difference (Blacks 52 percent, Whites 87 percent). The U of M’s 50-percent GSR for Black men’s basketball players is tied with four other schools for fourth in the conference.

Its eight-point difference between Black (67 percent) and White (75 percent) women’s basketball players is among the Big Ten’s lowest. However, five Big Ten schools – Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa – all graduated both Black and White female basketball players at the same 100 percent rate.

Indiana is the only Big Ten school that reported a similar 100 percent graduation rate for both its Black and White men’s basketball players. Northwestern is the only conference school where Black athletes have a higher GSR (100 percent for both men’s and women’s basketball, and 95 percent for football) than its White players (75 percent in men’s basketball, 94 percent in football, and 100 percent in women’s basketball).

Holleran said that Minnesota tries to address each individual student’s academic needs once they arrive on campus, especially student-athletes. “They come in with different skill sets [and] have been prepared differently, depending on where they went to high school and what part of the country [they are originally from]. So we try to meet them where they are and provide them with the help and skills they need to be successful.

“We try to assess that very early and then adjust what we are doing over here [at the McNamara Center] to try to meet their needs,” said Holleran, who also pointed out that the school’s GSRs “have been on the up-tick” for all student-athletes, including Blacks, over the past five to seven years. She cited as examples the Martin Luther King and Access to Success programs as “wonderful programs” available for incoming Black students and student-athletes.

“We’ve had some success,” said Holleran.

Although school officials said last week they are pleased with the overall student-athlete graduation rate, Holleran noted, “There’s room for improvement for graduation rates across the board. Our graduation success rate of 79 percent is good, but it could be better. We are committed to all our student-athletes.”


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