Graduation Rates and March Madness

basketball

The hoopla that surrounds the NCCA basketball finals is an essentially permanent characteristic of the contemporary collegiate experience. It’s like pro sports, but slightly less banal and corporate, which means that there is much more potential for people to enjoy and feel connected to it.

I get it, that’s great. What I find troublesome about this period is the weird way that education policy people attempt to piggyback on this popular pastime by using it as a platform to discuss super unpopular and complicated policy efforts. The real problem might not have anything to do with education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who actually used to be a college basketball player, is one of the worst violators. This year he breaks out, yet again, his annual college basketball graduation rate mantra.

Today he tweeted:

13 teams in the men’s #NCAA tournament won’t qualify going forward unless they improve academically. And that’s the way it should be.

Universities can’t use athletes just to make money, investing in their education is a moral imperative. #NCAA

Congratulations to the 30 men & women March Madness teams with 100% graduation rates. #NCAA

Thank you @NCAA Pres. Emmert & Univ. Presidents for your leadership and moral courage to raise the bar on #NCAA academics.

In 2010 he proposed that that schools that graduated less than 40 percent of basketball players shouldn’t be eligible to participate in the tournament. Last year he suggested 50 percent. This year I was expecting 60 percent, just for consistency.

It perhaps makes sense to use the basketball tournament to force schools to improve their completion rates, but this particular focus on the graduation rate of the men’s basketball team seems somewhat misguided.

Perhaps I’m missing something but it seems to me star that players at major basketball powerhouses don’t drop out for the normal reasons students drop out, like the finances and poor preparation for college. These factors are so very important for institutions trying to improve their graduation rates.

In fact, star basketball players seem to drop out mostly because the National Basketball Association has a rule that requires draft applicants to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school. This essentially forces the students to go to college, whether they really want to or not. This particular rule makes it fairly difficult for colleges to promote meaningful academic standards.

Students drop out because they think they can make money playing basketball, for a living. And, as basketball players, that’s pretty much exactly what they want to do. Why stick around to finish that bachelor’s degree in geography? Is that economically rational? Aren’t they ready to move on? Why would basketball players think another two years in college would make them dramatically better prepared for life beyond college, especially if the only reason they went to college was to play basketball after college? [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer