The Final Four and Beyond

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

April 1, 2015

By Michael Dannenberg

This week, I’ve had to put up with a good amount of smack talk from Michigan State fans killing it in our office’s NCAA tournament pool. Well, it’s long past time to smack back.

First though, genuine congratulations to Spartan fans and Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo for making it to the Final Four…again.  Like any sports fan – education wonk, I like stats and am blown away that this weekend marks Tom Izzo’s 7th Final Four appearance in 18 tournament trips. That’s crazy.


But here’s another head slapper for you of which Michigan State and Izzo should be ashamed. Only 1 in 10 Michigan State black males graduates in four years, according to data Michigan State has submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

And no, we’re not talking about the black male basketball players. We’re talking about all black male Michigan State students.


Michigan State’s record on racial and economic diversity is terrible.

Consider racial minority and low-income student access. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of undergraduates enrolled overall went up at Michigan State. But the number of black and Latino students went down.

Between 2009 and 2011, net price (that is after out-of-pocket family expenses after financial aid) went down. That’s good. But net price for students from poor families net price went up 20 percent, making it harder for low-income students to attend Michigan State.

Take a further look at completion. There is a huge attainment gap at Michigan State between white students and under represented minorities.

Be generous and measure Michigan State’s success in graduating students within six years of initial enrollment. Almost 81 percent of first-time, full-time white students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of initial enrollment. But only 55 percent of black students and only 62 percent of Latino students do the same.

Not only is there a huge white-black and white-Latino graduation gap at Michigan State, it’s been getting worse. Between 2002 and 2011, the attainment gap at Michigan State doubled in size.


Again these are students Michigan State accepted, presumably believing they could do the work at a sufficient level to graduate. Other colleges with similar admissions standards do much, much better than Michigan State.

Florida State, which has a similar average SAT and percentage of low-income students as Michigan State, has a close to zero attainment gap between white and under represented minority students.

Look, I hope Michigan State wins the NCAA tournament. Tom Izzo is a great coach. And win or lose this weekend, Izzo is going to go down as one of the great college basketball coaches of all time. But he could go down as one of the great college leaders of all time.

Izzo could and should use his influence to get Michigan State to make a meaningful commitment to student body diversity and student success. That might mean advocating for revised admissions policies, better need-based financial aid, increased support for at-risk students over the summer and during the school year, and holding administrators accountability for results. All have been done elsewhere.

Tom Izzo is the big man on campus at Michigan State. He can move the ball.