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When March Madness Becomes May Sadness

Last weekend, college sports fans across the nation celebrated “Selection Sunday” – a day busily spent composing college basketball tournament brackets. Annual bragging rights and the coveted pool of money amassed by friends and coworkers lead to a particularly high level of fanaticism — March Madness. For some, however, the wager is far higher than office bragging rights.

For the basketball players, who may or may not make it to the NBA, choosing the right team and graduating with a degree will be essential. The players who choose the team because of its performance in March Madness could be disappointed when they are not walking the stage to receive their diploma in May.

This year, New America ranked all 68 basketball teams who made it into the tournament bracket based on how well they serve their basketball players academically. Our formula primarily uses the NCAA’s “Graduation Success Rate” but also factors in the federal graduation rate for players relative to the general student body. While Davidson was seeded tenth in the Southern Conference, it led our rankings with a 100 percent Graduation Success Rate and by maintaining an 85 percent federal graduation rate for its basketball team – which is higher than most universities in the nation. Notre Dame made a strong showing both on and off the court, earning both the number three spot in our rankings and third seed in the Midwestern conference.

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On the other hand, New Mexico State barely squeaked by into fifteenth in the Midwest and came in at 64 on our rankings because of its 30 percent Graduation Success Rate and its incredibly low federal graduation rates for both the general student body and the basketball team. In the end, Indiana performed the worst on our rankings, with its 8 percent basketball graduation rate despite managing to graduate 72 percent of its general student body.

See the link below for a complete list of New America’s Academic March Madness Rankings*.

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*Harvard does not provide a four-year federal graduation rate so it was not ranked


Ben Barrett is a program associate with the Education Policy program at New America, where he is a member of the higher education team.