U of M’s graduation rates for Black student-athletes at bottom of Big Ten


Both the NCAA and the University of Minnesota last month boasted of improved student-athletes’ graduation rates. However, a closer look shows that this “significant achievement” does not apply to the school’s Black student-athletes. 

The NCAA in 2005 created the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) to more accurately reflect actual graduation rates. It is used in conjunction with the Federal Graduation Rate used by the U.S. Department of Education; the only difference is that for the GSR all student-athletes are counted, even those that leave an institution for any reason as non-graduates.

According to the latest NCAA GSR data released in November, 79 percent of all Division I student-athletes who entered college as freshmen in 2002 earned their degrees in four years. U of M officials reported that 76 percent of its student-athletes who entered the school between 1999 and 2002 graduated with degrees after four years.

“The latest graduation rate figures…and the academic strides made by our student-athletes represent a significant achievement for Gopher athletics,” said Athletics Director Joel Maturi in a November 18 press release, referring to the overall rates.

However, an analysis of 2002-03 NCAA GSR data shows a wide disparity in graduation rates between U of M Black and White male student-athletes in both men’s basketball and football. Gopher women’s basketball student-athletes show a slightly narrower graduation rate gap between Black and White females.

Compared to other Big Ten schools, the data shows that Minnesota ranks at or near the bottom in graduation rates of its Black students in three revenue-producing sports: men’s basketball, football, and women’s basketball.

Men’s basketball

GSR for U of M Black student-athletes: 43 percent (ninth in Big Ten); Northwestern leads with 100 percent.

GSR for U of M White student-athletes: 100 percent (one of eight Big Ten schools with this rate).

Overall NCAA GSR: Blacks 56 percent, Whites 81 percent.


GSR for U of M Black student-athletes: 39 percent (last in Big Ten); Northwestern leads with 90 percent.

GSR for U of M White student-athletes: 79 percent (eighth in Big Ten).

Overall NCAA GSR: Blacks 58 percent, Whites 79 percent.

Women’s basketball

GSR for U of M Black student-athletes: 67 percent (ninth in Big Ten); three schools are at 100 percent.

GSR for U of M White student-athletes: 83 percent (tied for eighth in Big Ten).

Overall NCAA GSR: Blacks 75 percent, Whites 89 percent.

Gopher Black athletes did show higher GSRs than Whites in other sports such as men’s cross country/track (100 percent) and women’s non-revenue sports (100 percent), where the number of Black student-athletes is very small.

Asked why there is such a disparity between the school’s Black and White athletes, especially in the three revenue-producing sports, U of M Academic Counseling and Student Services Director Mark Nelson said, “The numbers can be misleading. You can make the numbers look any way you want, because the reality is we have, of the African American student-athletes in the 2002-03 cohort, we had seven out of 20 that graduated.

“Eleven of those students transferred before they finished out their playing career, or for various reasons,” said Nelson. “All 11 left in good academic standing – they didn’t flunk out.”

Nelson then referred the MSR to Minnesota Associate Athletics Director Leo Lewis, the only Black on the school’s athletics management staff. “Leo might be a good person to speak with on his mentoring program,” said Nelson.

Lewis, who joined the U of M four years ago this month, briefly talked about a mentoring program connecting Black athletes with local Black community members, and a summer orientation for incoming freshmen among several programs he initiated to help meet Black student-athletes’ academic and social needs. “Many are coming from communities [around the country] that are not like the Twin Cities,” he pointed out.

Also, the NCAA data indicates that all U of M Black students graduate at a lower rate (42 percent for males and 44 percent for females) than all other student groups except Native American males (24 percent) and Native American females (27 percent).

The four-year graduation rates for all other student groups are: Asian males 50 percent, Asian females 57 percent, Latino males 49 percent, Latino females 57 percent, White males 65 percent, and White females 66 percent.

The NCAA report also showed that Division I Black student-athletes’ graduation rates (57 percent for males and 79 percent for females) are not only lower than the 79 percent overall mark, but also lower than all other student groups. The Asian male student-athlete rate was 66 percent, Asian females 86 percent, Latino males 66 percent, Latino females 83 percent, Native American males 61 percent, Native American females 80 percent, White males 79 percent, and White females 90 percent.

“This is not necessarily isolated to the University of Minnesota,” said Nelson, who joined the school in June 2005.

When asked earlier this May about his school’s progress in graduating Black student-athletes, Maturi responded, “I am not so sure that the gap isn’t bigger, and I am very concerned about that.”

After the recent GSR report was released, Maturi said of the poor Black graduation rates, “Those aren’t easy to turn around overnight, and it takes a long time, but I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Last week, Minnesota announced that 61 Gopher student-athletes were named to the Big Ten’s fall 2009 Academic All-Big Ten teams. Student-athletes who are in at least their second collegiate year and have a career grade-point average of 3.0 or better are eligible. Only four Black football players were named.

Nelson stressed that any Gopher player can get their degree even after their athletic eligibility had expired. “Our goal is to graduate every student-athlete that walks through our doors,” he said. “That includes students who play out their careers and go on to their professional lives and may come back at a later date.

“Ninety percent of our student-athletes who exhausted their eligibility from the University of Minnesota do graduate,” Nelson said. “Whether they’re African American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, etc., nine out of 10 of those graduate over a 10-year period. That’s pretty impressive.”

No secret formula

In supporting the recent report, Minnesota Senior Associate Athletics Director Regina Sullivan admits that the school’s Black student-athlete graduation rates have been poor, but she believes that steps have been taken to improve the outcomes for players. “The good news is that that trend has changed significantly in the last two years where we made great progress,” she stated.

“I do believe we are getting better. We put a lot of resources into bringing kids in the summer prior to their freshman year to try to get them off on a good start. The research shows us that the first term is very important in terms of how student-athletes ultimately will do,” said Sullivan.

In contrast to Minnesota, which lags far behind its conference member schools in graduating Black players, Penn State is second in the Big Ten in graduating its Black male (80 percent) and female (91 percent) student-athletes. There is no secret formula for such success, said Penn State’s third-year Head Women’s Basketball Coach Coquese Washington.

“We expect everybody to graduate. That expectation is not only for our African American student-athletes, but anyone else,” Washington said. “We have the resources and the tools, and I think we have the impetus from the coaches that we expect them to go to class, be active participants in [their] academic success, and to graduate.

“I think that expectation is known from day one,” added Washington, “and kids live up to it.”

Next week: How does the U of M football team’s Graduation Success Rate rank among other bowl teams? To see the entire 2009 NCAA graduation rate report, go to NCAA.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.