06/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Duke Dominates on the Court and in the Classroom

Mike Krzyzewski and Duke University have done it again. With last night's dramatic win over improbable finalist Butler, the Blue Devils sealed their position as arguably the greatest college basketball program of the modern era. Over the past 20 years, they've made 19 appearances at the NCAA men's basketball tournament, winning four national championships along the way. Few schools even come close.

But what's often ignored about Duke--at least every March--is the university's performance off the court. According to 2007 data available on College Results Online, Duke's six-year graduation rate is 93.6 percent overall and 93.4 percent for underrepresented minority students--including African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans--far surpassing the 42 percent national average for the same student group.

Duke is among a small, elite group of schools that, over the past two decades, have strong records both on and off the court. And for the first time in recent years, the final game of this year's NCAA tournament was played by two schools that can boast both athletic and academic success. Butler University, this year's undeniable Cinderella story, has an overall graduation rate of 73.6 percent and a 70.0 percent rate among underrepresented minority students.

The NCAA tournament has the power to put little-known schools on the map as well as boost the profile of traditional basketball powerhouses, making them highly attractive to high school students across the nation. But too often, these schools are disappointing performers where it matters most--in the classroom. That's why Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called on the NCAA to institute new rules to ensure that basketball programs making the Big Dance are held accountable for their success off the court. Duncan's proposal would require the NCAA to set a minimum graduation rate for teams to be eligible for post-season play.

But we should be equally concerned about campus-wide failure, too. In fact, at many of the schools participating in March Madness, student success comes less frequently than success on the court. For example, the six-year graduation rate at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas--which made the tournament three of the past four years--is 40.6 percent overall and 34.6 percent for underrepresented minorities. At Murray State University, which upset Vanderbilt in the first round, the overall graduation rate is 50.7 percent and just 32.4 percent for underrepresented minority students.

These kinds of graduation rates--for all students, not just student-athletes--are absolutely unacceptable. If a basketball program had that kind of win-loss record, the university would take responsibility and make changes to help the team improve. Higher education leaders need to take the same kind of responsibility for improving the future prospects of their students, even those who don't shoot perfect three-pointers. The good news is that this year's big winners are winners off the court, too.