Barriers to Persistence among African American Intercollegiate Athletes: A Literature Review of Non-Cognitive Variables

Article excerpt

For many universities which sponsor intercollegiate athletics programs, it is a constant battle to maintain the balance between academic success and competitive success. There is a great deal of criticism and discussion both on and off college campuses regarding the low graduation rates of athletes, particularly African American males competing in the sports of football and basketball. In response, the NCAA implemented legislation that focused on the academic progress of the student athletes. Additionally, individual institutions hasten to implement academic and student service programs aimed at improving the graduation rates of athletes on their campuses. Unfortunately, these programs are often initiated without gaining an understanding of the student population they are designed to serve. Understanding the variables affecting persistence in a particular student population, at a particular institution is the first step in developing retention programs. There are many variables that affect persistence in college students. The variables are typically categorized as either cognitive (intellectual) or non-cognitive (attitudinal or motivational). The purpose of this article is to heighten the reader's awareness about the role non-cognitive variables may play in persistence among African American student athletes.

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University administrators and faculty across the country are working to enhance persistence and graduation rates at their respective institutions. Certain subgroups of the student population prove to be more challenging than others; for example; nontraditional older students, students under prepared for higher education, learning disabled, first generation college students, and minority students. The subgroup of intercollegiate athletes and even more specific, African American male athletes may fall into one or more of these categories. The graduation rates for African American men participating in the revenue producing sports of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I football and basketball have historically been low. Although the graduation rates for this group of athletes have improved over the past several years, they are still lower than their white teammates. The NCAA has taken steps aimed at improving educational persistence and graduation rates for athletes in its member institutions. The measures have a limited affect and cannot stand alone to improve persistence of individual athletes at individual institutions. To be effective, programming and intervention strategies must be founded on a basic understanding of the characteristics of the institution as well as the characteristics of the student or subgroups of students.

Many variables affect a student's decision to remain or leave college. Variables that affect persistence are generally categorized as cognitive (intellectual), non-cognitive (motivational) and environmental. Environmental variables are further broken down into internal or institutional and external variables (Astin, 1975; Tinto, 1993). The variables act together to influence persistence, unfortunately, research efforts and programming efforts historically focus on the cognitive aspects. Although the focus of this literature review is the non-cognitive variables associated with persistence, it may benefit the reader to become familiar with some of the mandates imposed on college athletes that focus on cognitive aspects.

Cognitive Variables Affecting Persistence

Traditionally, academic success and persistence are measured in terms of cognitive dimensions such as scores on standardized tests, GPA, grades and graduation rates. Institutions routinely assess persistence by evaluating graduation rate. Annually, the NCAA requires all member institutions to report graduation rates of student athletes. Although the data is conservative since it only encapsulates students who enter institutions as freshman and who receive athletic aid, it is useful to demonstrate the significance of the problem in African American student athletes (NCAA 2001, table 1). …