The athlete’s way through college

Most Division I basketball players leave college without a degree, reports the annual Academic March Madness report. At University of Connecticut, one of the Final Four teams, the graduation rate is 25 percent.

While a select handful of these players will move on the NBA, the vast majority of those that do not graduate will be left with little academic training, minimal career options, and only the fading glory of college hoops as compensation. And the schools these players “studied” at won’t shed any tears — having already made millions of dollars off their talents.  

But non-athletes do even worse, writes Andrew Rotherham on USA Today.

At the typical four-year college or university, according to federal data, fewer than 40% of students graduate in four years, and only 63% finish within six. Minority and low-income students are much less likely to graduate.

As long as athletes are eligible to play, writes Rotherham, their universities provide the support they need to meet minimal academic requirements.

The problem isn’t preferential treatment for athletes. It’s the conspicuous absence of such support for poor and minority students who would benefit from tutoring, special study halls and other programs to help them adjust to college life.

I’m not sure poor and minority students would benefit from taking easy classes, getting special privileges from instructors and letting their tutors write their papers and take their finals. When athletes lose their support systems, many are unable to pass enough classes to earn a degree. That doesn’t seem like a system to emulate.

Via Eduwonk.

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Comments

  1. The problems college athletes have in school are traced back to their high school days. From an athlete’s standpoint, most athletes could get away with pretty much anything; skipping class, not turning in homework, etc. As long as they continued to perform well on the field, what they did in the classroom was of less importance. I mean, the great athletes wouldn’t need a good education right?

    Fortunately, colleges offer more support educationally to their athletes than high schools. They get priority registration, tutors to help with their studies, and a GPA requirement lower than that of a major requirement (Kent State allows athletes to compete with a 2.3 GPA, although all majors require at least a 2.5 to graduate).

  2. “At the typical four-year college or university, according to federal data, fewer than 40% of students graduate in four years”

    These results can be skewed because nowadays, many college degrees are nearly impossible to attain in only four years. A lot more non-degree requirements have been added to the curriculum, and some courses are only offered in the spring or the fall. Without summer classes,it is often difficult to obtain a degree in four years.

  3. Reports like these are precisely why some senators have been investigating the “tax-exempt” status of the NCAA. Colleges are tax-exempt based on their educational mission. That is clearly not the case with these non-graduation stats. It’s even more relevant in the days of March Madness when the NCAA signs billion dollar contracts with TV and schools offer Wall Street CEO salaries with basketball coaches.

    Clearly, the NCAA needs to be taken to task for this apparent fraud.

  4. If these university athletics are signing million dollar contracts with television stations, where exactly is all of this money going? Does any one it go towards education, or does the sports team involved get to keep all of the revenue?

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    An interesting/amusing bit from the article:

    At the typical four-year college or university, according to federal data, fewer than 40% of students graduate in four years, and only 63% finish within six.

    ….

    To be sure, graduation rates for college athletes are also too low — about three in four, according to the NCAA’s ‘graduation success rate’ — though overall they’re still better than the average for all students.

    So, while we can/will get worked up about how few athletes graduate, the ‘typical’ athlete has a better chance of graduating than the typical non-athlete (which the article points out)!

    And then:

    The problem isn’t preferential treatment for athletes. It’s the conspicuous absence of such support for poor and minority students who would benefit from tutoring, special study halls and other programs to help them adjust to college life.

    And yet, without seeing the college budgets, I can’t know where the money for this is supposed to come.

    I also wonder how much of this is minority students being admitted to the “wrong” schools (e.g. could do fine at a Cal State, but got admitted and went to UCB).

    -Mark Roulo

  6. It’s pretty clear that the entertainment industry, in all its forms, has achieve *sacred* status in our society. If you make $50 million running, say, a machine tool company or a retail chain, you are evil and greedy. If you make $50 million by coaching basketball or playing music or being the host of a TV program, that’s just fine.

  7. Uh, Let’s GO HUS-KIES!!

  8. John Drake says:

    I have to agree with Mark–the four-year graduation rate is meaningless. My students would have to do 18 units a semester as well as some summer classes to get it all done. For those with part-time jobs, forget it.

    I think that if they pushed it to five years, the graduation rates would look a lot better.

  9. The graduation rates of athletes in ACC schools used to be in the 70% range–does anyone know if that’s changed? That was always one of the things that made ACC sports so exciting, having national championship teams in many sports while adhering to scholarly standards.

    But with the league expansions over the last two decades, I don’t know if that’s true any more.

  10. College these days is considered way overpriced for what you get in the end (most students carry at least 15-25 thousand in debt by the time they are finished, if they finish at all). The cost of college has increased almost 400 percent since the late 1970′s, the typical instruction schedule of a college in the 1960′s was 220-230 days, these days, it’s fewer than 150 days (less than a high school year, which averages 180 days).

    Add to that, many employers state that college graduates lack critical thinking, problem solving, and analysis skills which will be needed in order to obtain a job (never mind interviewing or networking skills to make contact in industry).

    Many students wind up in debt for an education, and then wind up with a job that requires little or no college education (more students could skip college completely, if our public schools actually educated persons, rather than just passing them along…)

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    The real puzzler is where USA Today and nearly everyone else has been for the last several decades. Are they really just now discovering that athletics and actual student scholarship are only incidentally — if that — related?

    Athletes have received special treatment since long before the era of “eligibility” seemingly placed at least some standard on colleges and universities.

    And even with help, it’s clear some athletes really are there to play, and otherwise have no business attempting to be a student on campus. I am reminded of Chuck Muncie at Cal a couple decades or so back. The athletic department had to assign someone to him specifically to make sure he attended class at least some of the time. But he sure could carry a football!

    Bill

  12. McSwain says:

    It took me, an “achiever” and non-athlete, more than four years to graduate from the Cal State system. The reasons had nothing to do with me. Required classes were so overcrowded that I couldn’t get them, and some classes weren’t offered often enough that it was possible to take the prerequisites, then upper division courses, in less than 6 years time.

    Insane. Used to be a common complaint. Hopefully, things have changed.

  13. Not one penny of public money should be spent on athletics in schools, secondary and postsecondary. Particularly in college football and basketball, let the professional teams sponsor college athletics just as baseball does with the minor leagues.

  14. Cry me a river for these athletes. They get a free ride through college and they have no one to blame but themselves they didn’t get a degree out of it.

  15. Anon,

    I don’t know if public money is spent on athletics in state schools, but I can assure you that no public money is spent on athletics at the USNA. Athletics is entirely self-funded through gate receipts, with the football program footing the bill for practically every other sport.

    Perhaps this is true of most colleges?

  16. tim-10-ber says:

    I believe these stats for college athletes are skewed. When you look solely at the graduation rate for male athletes vs female athletes there is a huge difference. The women’s program graduation rates are much, much higher…

  17. Richard says:

    I went to a Texas state university on a full athletic scholarship and graduated on time in four years. I’ll always be grateful for the scholarship and I’ll always wonder how the heck I did it. No prof ever cut any of us any slack that I saw. It is very tough keeping up with studies and doing an exhausting practice every day.

    Here’s one thing that does happen. You offer 30 freshman scholarships and renew only fifteen for the next year. College athletics is very Darwinian. Anyway, many of those dropped fifteen can’t afford to come back. You see that happen a lot. And that boosts the no graduation rate.

    Richard

  18. Richard I glad you value the importance of a proper education and that you succeeded. Not all athletes are as luck and dedicated as you must have been.
    Mike in Texas, I completely agree that it is the athlete’s fault if they do not complete their education. I know so many of us “athletes” dream of turning professional someday, but to very few of us is that actually a reality. And even for some who are extremely gifted with athletic talent fail to make it because of injury or disciplinary problems. Unfornutely injuries do happen and often it is out of the control of the athlete. So why don’t they do something about what they can control and get themselves an education.

  19. tim-10-ber, why do you believe women’s graduation rates are higher among athletes? Women typically graduate more often than males regardless if athlete or not, but why do you believe this is so?

  20. Mark,

    I recall reading something that said women athletes have a higher graduation rate because there is no big employment contract waiting for them, but I do not think the article compared female athletes to ordinary female students.

  21. Andy Freeman says:

    > If these university athletics are signing million dollar contracts with television stations, where exactly is all of this money going? Does any one it go towards education, or does the sports team involved get to keep all of the revenue?

    It stays mostly in the athletic department. “Big” sports subsidize the ones that don’t pay their way, including club sports and other activities. At some schools, the subsidy isn’t enough so the general fund provides some money for clubs and other activities.

    We can argue about whether the general fund should provide any money for such activities but without big sports, those activities would get far less money or the general fund would have to kick in far more.

    One argument for major sports is that it’s believed that getting someone to donate for a sports team helps with general university fundraising.

  22. I do feel sorry for the athletes. Parents make the choice, not children. Millions of parents groom their children for athletic scholarships. Most children won’t qualify, but a few will. Unfortunately, parents are more willing to pay for lessons, membership fees, travel and sports equipment, then they are for tutoring or academic support. I have read analyses which find that the sum of money necessary to create a college athlete outstrips the value of most athletic scholarships.

  23. Cardinal Fang says:

    Having just seen the results from another college application season, I’m furious anew that recruited athletes get their own special lower qualification standards. To get into Yale as a regular applicant, a student has to walk on water. But an ordinarily bright, successful student who can help Yale’s team win gets the red carpet treatment.

  24. When did sports stop being EXTRA-Curricular and become part of the actual curriculum?

    I love sports, movies, TV, and video games as much as the next guy, but the people that work those jobs aren’t the ones keeping our society running. So why do they get all the love?

  25. In all our local high schools, practice is occurs during the school day, in place of PE or some other elective class.

  26. Given the comments here, I rest my case. Not one penny of public money should be spent on athletics at the high school or college level. All athletic teams should be privately funded. At the high school level, this means boosters and fund raising. Ditto at the college level, although pro sports teams should be welcome to fund college athletics as “farm” teams. Also, college athletes should NOT have to be a student at that college if the team is privately funded. Especially in basketball and football, let them become the “pro” they want to be. This would stop the sham of the so-called “student-athlete”.

  27. Huh. I’m kinda surprised at the idea that it’s so difficult to graduate in only 4 years. I guess I could understand if you’re majoring in something insanely difficult, but how many of us really go for astrophysics as opposed to something tamer, like English? I picked my major (English) during spring of sophomore year, and then I tacked on another major (Linguistics) after that, and I had no issues with graduating on time. In fact, I managed to complete my requirements early, so that during my last semester of senior year, I was able to fill my schedule with ‘fun’ classes because there were no more required classes I had to take. And I wasn’t some genius who took on a load of extra credits every semester, either.

    My best friend majored in kinesiology and neuroscience, and she had no issues with graduating on time, either. Then again, we both attended a private university. I wonder if the demand for certain classes is bigger with public universities.

  28. I like the idea of the NBA, NFL and NHL running their own farm teams. I’d go even further; no school sports at the k-12 level and only club and rec teams (student run) at the college level. Prior to college, sports should be run by a combination of parks/rec departments and private clubs, with kids/families choosing the skill and intensity level that fits their talents and timeframe. Let school return to all-academics (treat band, drama club etc just like sports), which is what most of the rest of the world does.

    As the parent of full-time elite athletes, I am aware that school sports is only a sideline for these kids; the big exception to this rule would be football, I assume because of cost/insurance issues. Also, some world-class athletes never play college sports; Michael Phelps, most top tennis players and most world-class soccer players.

  29. Andy Freeman says:

    > Given the comments here, I rest my case. Not one penny of public money should be spent on athletics at the high school or college level. All athletic teams should be privately funded.

    You didn’t understand the comments.

    Public money isn’t spent on big time athletics at the college level. Some public money may be spent on club sports that you’ve never heard of, but those are mostly paid for by big time athletics. The big time athletics pay for themselves and then some.

    In other words, the big time stuff is already privately funded, through directed/specific donations, tickets, TV, and the like. It just occurs at a college campus.

    Colleges seem to like the revenue and access to donors enough to lower admissions standards. Feel free to argue that the cost is too high, but they’re not paying it.

  30. Cardinal Fang says:

    Hmmm. The University of Washington is asking for $150 million in taxpayer subsidies to renovate its football stadium. I’d say that counts as public money spent on big time college sports.