The National Collegiate Athletic Association reports that 55 percent of all Black male athletes who enter colleges and universities in its Division I schools graduated from the same institution within six years. For all Black males at Division 1 schools, only 40 percent graduated within six schools. Therefore, there is the general impression that the Black athletes we see on the college football field or basketball court are doing better academically than their Black peers who do not compete in intercollegiate athletics.
But a new study led by Shaun R. Harper, the Clifford and Betty Allen Professor in Urban Leadership and director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, looked at the data from a different perspective. His analysis looked only at the 65 colleges and universities that make up the so-called Power 5 conferences: the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference. He founds that Black men make up 2.4 percent of all students at Power 5 conference schools but were 55 percent of the football players and 56 percent of the male basketball players at these schools.
Furthermore, in contrast to the data for all Division 1 schools, Black males at the Power 5 conferences were less likely to earn a degree within six years than their Black male peers who did compete in intercollegiate sports. At the Power 5 conferences, 55 percent of Black male student athletes graduated within six years compared to 60 percent of all Black men. Dr. Harper also found that at 40 percent of the Power 5 schools the graduation rate for Black male student athletes has declined from two years earlier.
“While leaders in the NCAA and Power Five conferences have important roles to play in reducing the exploitation of young Black men, no one is more responsible for systematically decreasing racial disproportionality in graduation rates than universities and their athletics departments,” Dr. Harper said. “These inequities are not going to correct themselves — campuses must enact multiple strategies and high levels of accountability.”
Before joining the faculty at the University of Southern California in 2017, Dr. Harper was director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He is the author or editor of many books including Advancing Black Male Student Success From Preschool Through PhD (Stylus Publishing, 2015) and Scandals in College Sports: Legal, Ethical, and Policy Case Studies (Routledge, 2017).
Dr. Harper is a graduate of Albany State University in Georgia. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in higher education from Indiana University.