SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The NCAA announced Tuesday that 77 percent of black men's Division I basketball players who entered college in 2009 earned a degree within six years, up five points from a year earlier and a record high.
That improvement helped the overall Graduation Success Rate match last year's record of 86 percent of athletes graduating within six years, the NCAA said. Of all black Division I student-athletes, 74 percent graduated within six years. NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a news release the improved rates were "hugely significant."
"Over the last 15 years, the overall Graduation Success Rate has dramatically improved, but the really good news is how college sports helps more and more minority students, especially those playing our highest-profile sport, earn a degree that will help them long after their athletics career is over," he said.
The graduation rate for black basketball players is up 31 percentage points over the past 15 years, the NCAA said. Overall, all black male athletes have increased their GSR by 19 percentage points to 70 percent during that time. Black female athletes improved their rate 13 points to 84 percent over that same time.
For all Division I athletes, the rate increased 12 percentage points during the past 15 years.
B. David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports business and president of The Drake Group, an NCAA watchdog, said the GSR provides only a partial picture, pointing to reports of athletes at North Carolina taking courses aimed at boosting their GPAs in a department popular with athletes.
"Are we essentially practicing eligibility maintenance, potentially in a major with friendly faculty?" he said. "Are these kids graduating with a very meaningful, vital degree that can benefit them for the next 50 to 60 years of their life? In some cases, yes, this is happening. But all too often -- and I know this because I worked in college athletics -- we're essentially pushing these kids through, keeping them eligible and in cases where they do graduate they might not be graduating with the requisite skills."
Among The Associated Press Top 25 football teams, the only teams with a GSR 65 percent or lower were No. 25 Troy at 65 percent and No. 13 Oklahoma State at 50 percent. Among Top 25 men's basketball teams, No. 4 Oregon had a GSR of 38 percent; No. 25 California 40 percent; No. 5 North Carolina, No. 18 Syracuse and No. 24 Cincinnati all had GSRs of 50 percent; and No. 13 Michigan State had a GSR of 63 percent.
The University of Connecticut men's basketball team had one of the lower graduation rates at 22 percent, according to the latest results. But those 2009 numbers were actually a big improvement over previous years. The team's GSR rose from just 8 percent in 2006, 17 percent the following year and 20 percent in 2008.
School spokesman Mike Enright said the poor graduation rate reflects the same time period for which UConn was sanctioned by the NCAA and missed the 2013 postseason because of another indicator, the Academic Progress Rate, which measures whether players are in good academic standing.
The school has reported perfect or near perfect APR scores since 2012-13 and is expecting similar numbers this year, Enright said. He also said all current members of the basketball team are on track to graduate.
"The academic achievement of our men's basketball team has been outstanding the past several years and I have a full expectation that this will continue," UConn athletic director David Benedict said.