Indianapolis Graduation rates among college athletes held steady in the most recent NCAA figures, but the rate among men's basketball players dropped to its second-lowest level since 1984.
The rates, which were released Monday and are announced annually, reflect graduation patterns for athletes who entered college in 1994-95.
While graduation rates for all Division I athletes remained at 58 percent the same as surveys conducted the last two years by the primary governing body for college sports the rate among men's basketball players dropped from 42 percent to 40 percent.
The rate among white male basketball players in Division I declined 4 percentage points to 52 percent. But the rate for black male basketball players, however, increased by 1 percent to 35 percent. That's 4 percentage points higher than the black male student body.
Richard Lapchick, head of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston, called those figures encouraging.
"That is a halt of the decline of black graduation, so it's kind of consistently ratcheting down," Lapchick said.
Lapchick added that the rates are "still low enough in basketball that we have to build in safeguards" to ensure athletes have a realistic opportunity to complete college degrees.
Black female basketball players in Division I showed the single largest increase ever, graduating 61 percent from the class that enrolled in 1994 a 9 percentage point jump from the previous year and 19 percentage points higher than the black female general student population.
Division I white female basketball players also showed a slight increase, graduating 70 percent in the 1994 group, compared with 69 percent among students who entered in 1993.
Overall, women basketball players at Division I schools graduated at a rate of 65 percent, up 2 percentage points.
Graduation rates for Division I football players also improved, from 48 percent to 51 percent.
After dropping to an all-time low of 55 percent in the 1993 group, the graduation rate among Division I-A white football players improved to 60 percent. The rate for Division I-A black football players rose three percentage points, from 42 percent to 45 percent.
Experts say the NCAA's figures must be interpreted with caution.
"The problem with graduation rates always is it's a snapshot of a single year," Lapchick said. "That may be a distorted year."
The NCAA began tracking graduation rates in 1984, using a formula that counts all transfer students even if they go elsewhere and graduate against the rates of their original school. It allows six years to complete a degree program, so graduation rates for the 1995 freshman class will not be compiled and announced until next year.
And although eligibility standards were set for incoming freshmen in 1986, graduation rates have hovered between 57 and 58 percent. Still, the graduation rate among athletes remained 2 percentage points higher than the rate for the general student population.
Athletes who entered college under the higher Proposition 16 standard, which went into effect in 1996, will not become part of the NCAA study until 2003.
The NCAA conducts the graduation survey each year to provide a direct comparison of athlete graduation rates with the rest of the student body.