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You are here: Home Newsroom Our Ideas Themes in the News Archive March 2013 March Madness and June Sadness

March Madness and June Sadness

  • 03-22-2013
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BLS education pays


Week of March 18-22, 2013


For a couple of weeks in March, no education-related activity will gather more attention than basketball. While watching TV and rooting for our bracket selections, it’s worth giving a moment’s consideration to an important aspect of college basketball—namely, college (particularly, graduation). Millions of younger youth will be watching the games as ersatz first-round picks, but will they be imagining themselves as academic successes—in college or high school?

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released its annual study comparing graduation rates among the student athletes in the tournament, with particular emphasis on African Americans (Colorlines). And, in California, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-Rialto) introduced a bill last week designed to improve the graduation rates among student athletes, by requiring public universities to guarantee scholarships for five years, among other things (Riverside Press-Enterprise).

Sacramento policymakers have also been discussing how to consider graduation rates with or alongside the Academic Performance Index scores (EdSource Today). The public pays lots of attention to students’ year-by-year test scores but the more important metric might be whether students actually graduate.

Forty years ago, the United States led much of the world in high school and college graduation rates, but since then we keep tumbling. According to Henry Levin and Cecelia Rouse, “In 1970, the United States had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we’ve slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education” (New York Times).

Graduation pays off. The problem is that thinking about graduation doesn’t get the blood flowing quite like a close fourth quarter in the Elite Eight. The following stats and conclusions might sound boring to an 11th grader, but young and old Americans must find their relevance to personal and public lives:  Studies show that for every dollar invested in higher education, there is a return of $1.45 to $3.55 (New York Times). Graduates experience higher wages, lower unemployment, and an increased ability to move up the socioeconomic ladder. The benefits trickle down to the larger society and include higher tax revenues, lower incarceration rates, better public health, and more civic participation.

So will the players in March be the graduates in June? March Madness is a great time for viewers to have fantasies about being a winner, associating with a superior school (Go Bruins!), feeling like a superior athlete, receiving adulation from fans, moving to the “next level” (NBA), and so on. But college graduation has to be more than a fantasy. It needs to be real and certain both for the athletes themselves and for the youngest fans that watch.

Image source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Weekly Themes In The News

Each Friday “Themes in the News” explores one of the current week’s “breaking news” topics—selected by IDEA staff and its partners—for summary and reflection.   Hyperlinks of the news stories, which are cited, allow readers to explore the theme on their own.