Story highlights

Among basketball players, women graduate at a rate of about 89%, men at 67%

The graduation disparity between white and black women is about 8 percentage points

That gap leaps to 28 percentage points among male athletes, the report found

CNN  — 

As schools gear up for March Madness, a new study released Wednesday shows that race and gender gaps in higher education continue to plague college basketball players on the NCAA tournament teams.

The study found that the female players in the tournament continue to out-graduate their male counterparts, and that graduation disparities between blacks and whites persist but are considerably less pronounced among women.

“The women’s teams always give us good news to report each year,” said Richard Lapchick, the lead author of the report, which was produced by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

The study found that women student basketball players on the tournament teams graduate at a rate of 89%, compared with 67% for men.

In addition, a disparity of 8 percentage points exists between white and African-American women. That disparity jumps to 28 percentage points among male athletes, the report found.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Wednesday’s report shows that “too many racial gaps in graduation rates remain, especially among the men’s teams.”

Duncan told reporters that graduation benchmarks should increase, and warned underperforming schools that they “simply won’t be allowed into the tournament” if they don’t meet academic standards.

“Raising the bar is always the way to go,” said Duncan, adding that his goal is to let “students be students first, and not (be) used by universities to make a bunch of money.”

Bad behavior has “been tolerated for so long,” he said.

But the report also revealed that 22 NCAA women’s programs playing in this year’s tournament have a 100% graduation rate of their players.

Those schools were Dayton, DePaul, Oklahoma, Duke, Kansas State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Creighton, Ohio State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Penn State, Georgetown, Florida, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Louisiana State, St. John’s, South Carolina, Iowa, Connecticut and Princeton.

Percentages were determined by the number of athletes that graduated within six years of entering school. The report focused only on this year’s NCAA tournament teams.

“Historically, women’s basketball student-athletes place great importance on academics,” Lapchick said. “They are truly representative of the balance that is needed to be a student-athlete in today’s collegiate environment.”

But there was also a sliver of good news for the men: Graduation rates among college basketball players bumped up 1% from last year, and longstanding gaps between blacks and whites narrowed by 4%, according to a separate report released by the institute earlier this week.

Still, “the issue of race remains the most prominent issue,” Lapchick said.

Overall college graduation rates for African-American women stand at 48%. It is 38% for African-American men, roughly 29 percentage points lower than African-American male basketball players. For white women, the rate is 67% and for white men it’s 63%.

College campuses “are often not welcoming places” for some students, said Lapchick, urging reforms in higher education and within urban high schools.