March gradness: An NCAA bracket built on grad rates, not victories


So, everybody’s NCAA bracket is ruined by now, right? OK, let’s try a different kind of bracket.
Let’s cancel March Madness.

Instead, let’s fill out a bracket about something that might actually matter to the American economy. Something that has far more impact on the student sections than the final scores of all those basketball games. A deeper level of accountability than who out-rebounded who in Madison Square Garden.

Let’s play “March Gradness.”

Here’s how it works… Same schools and pairings as this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship. But to survive and advance your school has to have the better student graduation rate for all full-time students.

There were a few “overtime” games in March Gradness – tie scores between schools with equal graduation rates. In those cases, African-American grad rates were used as a tiebreaker. Our data came from the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System. We used the published six-year graduation rate for full-time students. And special thanks to the technology company Vertex, which publishes a nifty NCAA bracket each year which we adapted to the purpose of March Gradness.

You can download a PDF of the results here.

Harvard, with a 97 percent graduation rate, beats Duke (95 percent) in the national championship. Stanford (95 percent) and Wisconsin (82 percent) round out the Final Four. Wisconsin is the only team this year to make the Final Four of both March Madness and March Gradness.

How do the three Michigan teams in March Madness fare in March Gradness? Well, there’s always next year:

Michigan, despite the sixth-best graduation rate in the field (91 percent), gets knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen by eventual runner-up Duke.

Michigan State, despite being tied for the 18th best graduation rate in the tournament, falls in the first round to Delaware. Final score: Delaware 82 percent, MSU 79 percent.

Western Michigan, tied for 52nd in the tournament with a graduation rate of 56 percent, falls quickly to Syracuse (82 percent) in the opening round.

There are no radio call-in shows about college graduation rates and ESPN is unlikely to interrupt regularly scheduled and never-ending postgame analysis to discuss this. So, please use the comments section below to complain about the referees, pairings and general suppositions of March Gradness. Such as:

Hey, you can’t compare Harvard to a state university. Of course all those rich Harvard, Dukie, and Stanford brats graduate. We Spartans and Broncos actually have to work our way through college!!! (And then you have to compete against grads from everywhere else for prosperous employment.)

Hey, what about student loans? I’m part of the 63 percent of Weber State students who drop out, but I paid a heckuva a lot lower tuition than those University of Virginia kids so I might get out of hock sooner. (Maybe next year the March Gradness seedings should be weighted based on student loan debt and cost of tuition?)

College athletes graduate at rates higher than the general student population, so leave the NCAA alone. And, get a life. Not everybody’s cut out for college. (Well, most of us aren’t cut out to fill in March Madness brackets, either. But we still enter.)

My point… If we redirected just a tiny fraction of our March Madness energy to campus issues that matter far more than the score of a basketball game, we might heighten attention to some pretty big problems lingering beyond the Final Four confetti. Such as:

So, how’s your March Gradness bracket?

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 04/03/2014 - 11:59am
I have to agree with John if we could just have more discussions about March Gladness and how to improve it the possibilities could be considerable. Since all the children will hopefully grow up to be productive citizens but it is a fact very few will become professional athletes making lots of money. Even though there are not easy answers any progress should be celebrated as much as a national champ ship win. Dale
Thu, 04/03/2014 - 1:07pm
Let's use basketball athlete graduation rates, rather than total school. (i.e. Kentucky- 0%?)
Amy McCormick
Tue, 04/08/2014 - 5:55pm
I agree. It would be very interesting to see the results if the basketball team's graduation rates were used. Those figures are too low.
Charles Richards
Thu, 04/03/2014 - 7:01pm
"My point… If we redirected just a tiny fraction of our March Madness energy to campus issues that matter far more than the score of a basketball game, we might heighten attention to some pretty big problems lingering beyond the Final Four confetti." Mr. Bebow goes on to specify one of those problems as, "A national college graduation rate that hovers slightly above 50 percent." Just what does he want us to do about that graduation rate? Detail a counselor to bird dog each student? Someone to make sure that they are studying rather than partying? Someone to point out that working hard will pay big dividends? And remember that is a six-year graduation rate. I would have liked to have seen Mr. Bebow list graduation rates for the last thirty years at five year intervals. He could also list the average number of hours spent studying over the same time frame. Is it our responsibility to remedy every individuals' failings? If he, and the Center for Michigan wished to be helpful, he could provide a searchable database with the results of a study by Payscale, a research firm. The April 5, 2014 edition of the Economist gives some of the results from that study which lists four-year tuition costs for various colleges and the rates of return on the student's investment. For instance the University of Virginia has a total cost of about $30,000 and an annual return (defined as earnings minus cost of college and earnings of a high school graduate) of 17.6%. Princeton has a cost of about $70,000 and an annual rate of return of 13.2% over twenty years. On the other hand, the University of North Carolina at Asheville has a total cost of about $40,000 with an annual return of -0.5%. The magazine notes that hard subjects pay off. It says, "Unsurprisingly, engineering is a good bet wherever you study it. An engineering graduate from the University of California, Berkeley can expect to be nearly $1.1m better off after 20 years than someone who never went to college. Even the least lucrative engineering courses generated a 20-year return of almost $500,000." Surely, any student, and their family, armed with this information is capable of making a good decision about where to go to college, and what to study. Just what does Mr. Bebow propose we do?