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The 38% Fiction
I figured this would happen. In the comments to "Destroy Harbaugh" there first came a pebble:
No mention of the 38% stat, I see. Because lets be honest, it doesn't matter what major you are if you don't actually graduate.
And then another...
Etc. These claims invariably come from Notre Dame fans. What can I say? Their obsession with Michigan knows no bounds. They even harass innocent bloggers who don't even cover their team.
This is the sort of criticism that only the truly deranged could come up with. While Michigan has spent most of the past decade fighting a protracted court battle against anti-affirmative-action groups, eventually winning and sort of losing at the same time, and has vowed to do everything in its power to keep the undergraduate population representative in the wake of Proposal 2's passage last fall. Michigan's administration had a deep-seated and continuing freakout over losing the ability to consider an applicant's race when it comes to admissions. In January they said race would still be a part of the application but that admissions officers could be trusted to ignore that information. The university stepped up its outreach and recruitment efforts so much that applications actually went up five percent:
According to preliminary admissions data, a total of 2,460 underrepresented minorities had applied to the University by the beginning of February - a 5 percent increase from the same point last year.
The increase in applicants may have been due to the fact that Proposal 2 was looming. Students at Cass Technical High School in Detroit said that before the initiative passed, University admissions officers encouraged them to apply as early as possible because it would be harder to get in if Proposal 2 was approved.
"Admissions officers came to our school and told us to apply early," said Cass Tech senior Dwayne Riley, who has already enrolled at the University for next year.
Admissions officers visited Cass Tech - a major feeder school for underrepresented minorities who attend the University - frequently throughout the fall.
Ashley Grant, also a senior at Cass, said the University's image may have even improved since Proposal 2 passed.
"I definitely don't think Proposal 2 hurt Michigan's image," said Grant, who is still waiting to find out whether she's been admitted to the University. "If anything, I think it made the school look a lot better because it was trying to do everything in its power to admit as many students of color as possible."
Meanwhile, Notre Dame admits virtually no black students. A minuscule 3.6% of the undergraduate population is black, and the only reason it's that high is because of varsity athletics. One third of the black males on campus have letter jackets. A third! Without varsity athletes there would be 102 black undergraduate males at Notre Dame, 2.4% of the male student body. If you had a scavenger hunt on the Notre Dame campus, "black undergraduate male" would be tough. I don't mean to imply any racism on the part of the administration or school itself; far more likely is that an expensive Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana doesn't appeal to black students very much. (Its appeal to others remains a mystery.) As a private Catholic school their admissions policies are their prerogative. But it's clear that Notre Dame doesn't really care to change that perception or the composition of their student body.
So to be subject to a constant fusillade of racial criticism from fans of this school that suffers less than four percent of its student body to be black is amazing and infuriating, because the implication is always that Michigan is a racist institution that doesn't care about graduating people who aren't white. One school bends over backwards to help black students be the first in their family to go to college; the other virtually ignores them unless they can help out their sports teams... and it's Michigan that's criticized?
But it is leveled time and again, so it may as well be addressed.
1. 38% is a fictional number. I don't know where it came from or if it was a low ebb or what, but at the very least it's not current. The most recent NCAA data:
Three numbers, none of which are 38%, though one
is uncomfortably close to it. Which do we use? Well, 99-00 is just one class and the 4-class and GSR rates encompass a large number of athletes so we should prefer them. And the difference between 4-class and GSR or "Graduation Success Rate" is that the GSR removes "permissible exceptions" like religious missions or, um, death as well as players who transfer out of the program in good academic standing. It's more accurate, as it doesn't punish Michigan for losing a guy like Cobrani Mixon. That number: 50%. Obviously this is not ideal, but let's at least talk about a real number.
2. It is hard to graduate black men.
I'm not going to speculate on the reasons for this, but Michigan -- a school that we've seen wants to do everything in their power to get black kids on campus, and presumably graduate them -- only gave degrees to 61% of the black males it admitted over the four-year span in which our 50% number applies. This is a nationwide phenomenon:
Troubling, but not a symptom of wanton disregard from the university.
So it's not surprising that a group of black males with lower GPA and test scores than the general population, which already graduates at a lower rate than any other group, have an even tougher time getting out of college with a degree. Especially what with that full time job on the side. Of course, is that degree as valuable to varsity athletes?
3. Graduation is not a priority for many of Michigan's black athletes.
Some leave early: Woodson, Terrell, Branch, Shantee Orr, etc. Others, like Lamarr Woodley and David Harris, stay four years but are clearly going high in the NFL draft. They may not graduate because they choose to spend their final semester preparing for their chosen (and extremely lucrative) career instead of picking up a cosmetic diploma. This is clearly a larger effect for black players than white players. Despite an approximately 50-50 split between white and black players on Michigan's team, two-thirds of the draftees in the past ten years have been black.
And because whites are disproportionately concentrated on the offensive and defensive lines, tight end, linebacker, and quarterback -- all positions that tend to see redshirts a plenty -- they get a critical fifth year in the program much more often than black players do. An excellent comment (<-- also where the above referenced draft stat comes from) from Jim Carty's blog breaks down the details:
Of those drafted, % who were in school 5 years (really 4 and 1/2 since the guys preparing for the draft do not go to school second semester of their 5th year):
Black: 29% (9/31)
White: 87.5% (14/16)
Michigan's graduation rate for black males in school for four years hovers around 42%. (The 61% is the five-year graduation rate, from appearances.) Again I would like to stress that this is an outlier in no way whatsoever; this is a nationwide phenomenon.
This is only a subset of the total number of athletes, but it's a significant subset. Mike DeSimone shows 200 players signed in the previous decade, four of whom never got to campus and shouldn't be counted. Approximately half of them were black; approximately 31% percent of Michigan's black players ended up in the NFL over the past decade. This is a significant drag on their graduation rates, as a 1996 paper by Lawrence DeBrock, Wallace Hendricks, and Roger Koenker demonstrates. In it, they do a sophisticated statistical analysis of a set of variables. Their findings: when controlling for other factors, average GPA and SAT scores were not indicators of likely graduation or not, but four of the five professional success metrics were highly negatively correlated with graduation rates for an obvious reason: the acquisition of a degree is not as economically significant.
In each of our structural equations, our measure of the value of a degree from the institution had a strong positive impact on the graduation rate of scholarship athletes. This result was robust for all specifications, sports, and genders. In addition, we found evidence that the alternative economic opportunity of professional sports plays a significant role in the decision of scholarship athletes to stay in school. In both of the sports that had professional leagues, the opportunity to play in these leagues had a significant impact on graduation rates. In the case of women's basketball, where no such opportunities exist, those athletes who we predict would normally leave school early for this career are more likely to stay in school.
Alternative labor market opportunities are very real for this segment of the student body. These opportunities have significant impacts on graduation rates in football as well as men's basketball. The athlete's choice of a college is certainly driven by how the particular school will influence future financial returns; this is the same for nonathletes. The difference is that for athletes, this income stream is not as contingent on graduation as it is for other students. The strong implication is that movements to mandate graduation rates are misguided.
The market forces that lead some schools to have lower graduation rates among the student-athletes will continue to cause many students to rationally leave school early. Just as it is impossible to attempt to impose cross-institution equalization of graduation rates for the overall population of students, restrictions on graduation rates of scholarship athletes across campuses would be equally inefficient. While there is some informational content to raw graduation rates, it is considerably smaller than either the U.S. Congress or the media seem to believe.
Ironically, graduation rates are depressed because Michigan's elite football players are no fools: they have little use for a degree, at least not within the narrow five year band in which graduation rates are declared and discarded.
To paraphrase Kanye West, does Michigan care about black people?
You can't just add 50% and 31% to get a healthy 81% of Michigan's black players who end up either with a degree or in the NFL, as there's undoubtedly some overlap... but it probably isn't much given early departures, the prevalence of four-and-out NFL draftees, and the powerful economic disincentive provided by the potential of an NFL career -- Michigan will always be there, but your NFL combine comes but once a lifetime. Even if the overlap is quite large, Michigan's athlete success rate climbs above its non-athlete success rate. Peg it at around 50% of NFL players and Michigan athletes are at 65%, above the 61% of your typical student. That's estimating conservatively. Add in previous studies indicating that athletes are generally better off than non-athletes after graduation even without the pro sports option and it's clear that Michigan has little to apologize for. The goal here is not necessarily to rubber stamp some diploma. It's to provide these players a foundation from which they can live their life. Michigan does that by all accounts save one man who's got an obvious ulterior motive.
Is there room for improvem
Yes. Michigan makes an awful lot of money off these guys and owes them more than a typical student, who provides only tuition. Unless Michigan starts handing out degrees like candy the graduation rate is not likely to exceed 70-ish percent even in optimal cases. Ideally, everyone in the program is either degree-bearing or in the NFL minus a certain number of washouts that will happen naturally. Without a radical change in the philosophy of the university, 65% is a point the U should aim for an attempt to reach in the next few years.
What about Notre Dame?
This is about Notre Dame since it is always Notre Dame fans that bring this up, probably because they're about the only school that's appreciably better at handing kids degrees than Michigan is amongst national powers. Oh, and since they haven't won a bowl game in nearly 15 years. Or been among the top 25 programs in the last decade. Or finished with fewer than the three losses they deride Lloyd Carr for accumulating since 1993. When you can't talk about results on the field, talk about results off of it.
Anyway, according to the latest numbers ND has a GSR of 90%. Great! Good for you. But please realize that once you get into Notre Dame it is nearly impossible to not get a degree. One of eight Michigan undergraduates fails to graduate; that number at Notre Dame is one in 20. You can explain this gap any number of different ways, from the culture -- or lack thereof -- at Notre Dame to an Ivy League-like refusal to not pass people. I don't know which it is, but don't try to tell me that a school that recruits Tony Rice and Robert Blanton (810 SAT!) and the like but still graduates virtually everyone is particularly strict. Call this the Aaron Taylor Theory: if Aaron Taylor holds a degree from your university, chances are a sizable number of six-year-olds could also manage said feat.
Postscript. I'm tired of talking about this, but there is no one in the media who's willing to look at this any deeper than the surface level. Those that try, like Jim Carty, have put their muckraker hats on and are just digging for dirt without any consideration of complicated things like economics or common sense. Carty's perpetual assertion that it's way sketchy to have 60% of your declared majors in a particular program -- not an actual major -- which spans the entirely of LS&A but totally un-sketchy to have 60% of your declared players in only four majors, like Stanford does, is Carty at his worst. He did this "why won't Michigan answer my questions" junk after the Year of Infinite Pain, too. It's a common rhetorical device: assume Michigan's desire to avoid someone clearly looking to paint the university in a poor light is a virtual admission of guilt.
It's clear why Michigan is not going to talk about the subject: the last time they did they got an ill-considered Pat Forde article down their throat and Carty complaining about "silence." Since the media can't be trusted to do anything except rub their nonexistent goatees and try to impress chicks with their deep concern for Serious Issues instead of actually taking a point of view that's something other than willfully naive, they have no incentive to actually talk. In the end, the answer to "why won't Michigan talk to Jim Carty?" is "because he's Jim Carty."
Now: on to actual football. I have said my piece. I would appreciate it if commenters would link this whenever some daft Notre Dame fan runs into the comments and accuses Michigan of being the Josef Mengele of universities; nothing more on this topic will be published. Probably.
Why don't you just admit that Meechigan herds its black athletes into cow-college majors? Just man up and admit that you're no different from the SEC, and, boy does it hate you to admit this, OSU.
Speaking of which, why isnt there a great article on your blog about the comparative grad rates of UM and OSU students?