There is a received wisdom that the student experiences of student-athletes are deficient and that student-athletes are, and are treated as, athletes first and students second. We surveyed student-athletes at 18 Division IA (major football programs) schools to learn from them what they experience as students and how they assess those experiences. Student-athlete responses showed a generally positive picture of college life. While they regret that their participation in varsity athletics means that they miss out on some aspects of college life, both curricular and co-curricular, they value their athletics participation and believe that it both instills values independent of those derived from other aspects of college life and enhances particular skills and their overall
college experience. They also report that the trade-offs they make in order to compete are acceptable, or more than acceptable. This generally positive assessment also held true for different cohorts of student-athletes--male/female; African-American/white; athletically more successful/athletically less successful; team sports/individual sports, revenue/non revenue sports. Based on these findings, it appears that those who believe that Division IA student-athletes are receiving an inferior overall college education experience need to re-assess their conclusions, or at least to consider how the student-athletes themselves evaluate that experience.
Purpose and Scope
In 20052 we surveyed student-athletes at 18 NCAA Division IA (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) universities to determine their perceptions of their overall college experiences. Students selected to be surveyed were those who had completed at least 85 credit hours toward graduation by spring 2005, based on the premise that this cohort had sufficient time as college students to provide well-informed responses. Our purpose in the survey was two-fold. First, we sought to expand the information base regarding the student experience of student-athletes by asking them to describe and evaluate that experience. In particular, we sought to have them identify any tradeoffs they made in order to compete, and, even more particularly, to assess those tradeoffs. Second, we were hopeful that the responses might serve as a pointer to enhance the student experience of student-athletes.
Development of the Survey
The survey was first developed in spring 2004. Survey experts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Iowa (plus a class of graduate students there) reviewed drafts of the survey and provided comments. The survey was then piloted with a group of Nebraska student-athletes. Focus groups were held with these student-athletes after they had taken the survey to get their ideas for improving it. The survey included a few questions that would allow some indirect comparisons with the findings of the National Survey of Student Engagement that provides information on first-year and senior students at a large number of colleges and universities? This was done to provide comparison between student-athletes and other college students.
When the NCAA grant was received for this project it was with the stipulation that the NCAA research staff would add some items to the survey instrument taken from an NCAA survey, "Study of College Outcomes and Recent Experiences (SCORE)." SCORE is being administered to individuals who participated in college sports during the mid- 1990's and the inclusion of SCORE questions here was intended to provide the NCAA with additional longitudinal data.
Approval for conducting the study was received from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institutional Review Board and the NCAA Research Review Board. A few of the participating universities also required Institutional Review Board approval.
With one exception, we approached the directors of athletics or, on occasion, a member of the faculty, at Division IA universities where one or both of us knew the individual we approached. In many cases we knew this individual well. Our instinct, generally borne out by the survey returns, was that we would get greater cooperation at universities where we had a close contact. The 18 universities that agreed to participate were Iowa, Kansas State, Memphis, Miami, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Rice, Rutgers, South Carolina, Southern California, Texas A&M, Utah, Virginia, and Wake Forest. Two other universities originally agreed to participate but ended up not administering the survey.
We worked through a site facilitator selected by the athletics director. Site facilitators received a stipend to administer the survey. The facilitators were required to complete an on-line instructional module about the protection of human subjects that was developed for the survey. We had one or more telephone conversations with each facilitator to review the written instructions, instructional module content, and survey protocol as well as to respond to any questions. Contact was maintained with the facilitators throughout the data collection, primarily through email.
Surveys were shipped to the campuses in late March 2005. We received 930 completed surveys. Based on initial information from the site facilitators, there were 2414 student-athletes in the cohort (i.e., who had completed at least 85 semester hours of credit), leading to a 38.5% rate of return. At one university the site facilitator did virtually no work. If we exclude that university, there were 921 responses to the survey and 2335 student-athletes for a 41.2% rate of return.
Cohort numbers on each campus were derived from registration records or squad lists as they existed at the outset of spring semester 2005. These numbers were most likely overstated. Survey administration took place no sooner than early April 2005. By this time some student-athletes had dropped out to pursue football combine or training or to prepare for professional team drafts or other professional opportunities. Some were on medical absences. Others were no longer competing and their contact information proved incorrect. Still others were off campus student teaching or studying abroad or otherwise were not physically present because of their academic disciplines. Several facilitators reported that they believed the numbers they had given us of student-athletes eligible to take the survey were in fact inflated because of these or other record-keeping problems.
Site facilitators used a variety of techniques to make contact with student-athletes. These included (in descending order of frequency) attending team meetings or practice, e-mailing student-athletes, phoning student-athletes, scheduling times (and rooms) for survey completion, making contact at study halls, making individual arrangements with student-athletes, "catching" student-athletes as they passed through the halls or lounges, working through the compliance officer, making contact at exit interviews, and mailing surveys. Most facilitators used more than one way to make contact. The most significant problems reported by the site facilitators regarding administration of the survey were that it was too long and that it was distributed at the wrong time of year.
Perceptions of the Overall College Experience
The surveyed student-athletes have quite positive perceptions of their overall college experience. On five different items in which they were asked to rate their college experience these respondents consistently make positive responses over 90% of the time (see Table 1). This compares well with 87% of students on the 2004 NSSE who rate their college experience as "good" or "excellent." (4) Many educators and observers of "big time" college athletics have been concerned that the time spent on athletics keeps student-athletes from having a well-rounded college experience but at least from the perspective of these student-athletes this is not the case.
Perhaps the most interesting of the five items in Table 1 is the response to the question "Do you believe you are having a well-rounded educational experience?" It certainly seems reasonable to worry that the student-athlete's college experience would be anything but well-rounded given the amount of time and energy that he or she must devote to their sport. From the student-athlete's perspective this is not a problem even though, as will become evident as we look at responses to other survey questions, they do not have the opportunity to have all the experiences they would like while in college.
Commitment to a College Education
When asked "How important is it to you that you graduate from college?" 93% of those surveyed responded "very important" and an additional 6.8% responded "important" or "somewhat important." Obviously the graduation rate of student athletes is not this high. Determining why there is a difference between student-athletes' intentions relative to graduation and their accomplishment of it is beyond the scope of this study, but it does seem student-athlete disinterest in graduation is not a primary factor.
It is the view of 90% of the student-athlete respondents that their families think it is "very important" that they graduate (99.8% if "important" and "somewhat important" responses are included), which suggests significant home support. Interestingly, however, only 66% (94% if "important and somewhat important" responses are included) believe that their coaches feel that way about their graduation and only 47% (83%) think their professors feel that way.
Athletic programs and especially athletic grants-in-aid are frequently touted as important to leading students to come to and stay in college. Three-fourths of the students in this survey, however, strongly agree that they would have attended college even had they not been athletes. Furthermore the majority states that they would have participated in athletics without an athletics scholarship if that were financially possible. These responses raise questions about the arguments regarding the importance of athletics in attracting to college individuals who otherwise would not attend. Of course it is still possible that for some students--although for possibly a smaller number than often thought--the opportunity to participate in athletics and receive financial aid is a crucial factor. There are, however, differences between the responses of African-American and white student-athletes on these items; they are discussed later.
Contribution of Athletics to Student Development
Another matter much discussed is whether being a student-athlete in a Division IA program is an asset or liability in contributing to a student's development while in college. The student-athletes in this survey were asked how much athletics participation contributed to their overall development while in college. Table 2 presents some of their responses.
Certainly the response to the items in Table 2 is exceptionally positive. These student-athletes clearly view their participation as athletes as a valuable part of their personal development.
The student-athletes were also asked whether athletics participation contributed to the development of several specific skills often viewed as desirable outcomes of an educational experience. Table 3 presents the results of this inquiry.
If these student-athletes' perceptions are accurate, then it seems that athletics participation contributes to the development of a number of desirable traits. In no case is there any hint that athletics participation has a negative effect on student development in these areas. While it may be argued that the list includes attributes developed outside the academic realm of student experience, it hardly seems plausible to argue that they are not desirable outcomes of a college experience.
The student-athlete respondents also believe that participation in athletics will pay off for them when they enter the work world. Over 95% believe that "the skills and/or values learned through participation in intercollegiate athletics will help in getting the job or career desired." Furthermore 86% believe that the personal contacts they developed through participation in athletics will help them in getting the job or career they desire.
Even though student-athletes value their overall college experience and believe that athletics participation contributes in important ways to their personal and academic development, they may still be shortchanged on the academic end because of their time commitments to sport. The survey included questions to find out more about specific academic behaviors of the student-athletes to get a picture of how involved in academics these students are. The first percentage reported in Table 4 is for those who marked these survey items "all of the time" and" a great deal of the time" while the second percentage includes those who responded "some of the time."
Interpreting these results most likely depends on the perspective of the individual doing the interpreting. As college professors we would hope to see higher frequencies on the positive ends of these questions, but that hope would extend to all students, not just student-athletes. Although direct comparisons cannot be made, it appears that NSSE students respond more positively to at least some of these questions than the student-athletes in this study although, of course, the scales are different.
Concern is often expressed that student-athletes are limited in their selection of majors or end up in less demanding majors that are not their first choices so they will have more time for athletics and will more easily be able to stay eligible to compete. When asked "what was your primary reason for choosing your major" 83% responded "reason unrelated to athletics." "To stay eligible to compete" is the response of 5%; "scheduling conflicts between classes and athletic schedule" of 5%; "other athletics-related reasons" of 3%; and "because of transfer" of 5%. Without regard to their initial inclination about their major, less than 5% of the respondents currently feel negatively about their major. From the responses to these questions it appears that there is no wholesale directing of student-athletes into majors that they neither want nor value (although there may be some) as more than four out of five marked that their choice of a major was not determined by athletics influence.
Some propose that the term used to identify varsity student-athletes should be "athlete-students" instead of "student-athletes" to reflect their status on campus more accurately and the time and attention they spend on athletics as compared to academics at the Division IA level. Table 5 presents what the students themselves think.
Perhaps the finding that over 60% of those surveyed view themselves more as athletes than as students is no surprise. Certainly athletics participation claims much of their time and energy and, in many cases, provides important financial support. Certainly, too, it seems safe to assume that many persons with whom they come in contact--whether it be members of the public, fellow students, or even faculty and staff--view them more as athletes than as students. Furthermore, they spend much of their days with other athletes rather than with students who are not athletes. The basically 50-50 split on the "what it takes" question may well reflect how the question was interpreted by the respondents. In the comments the student-athletes made on the survey there are many statements about how the time management, work ethic, etc., skills they learned as athletes carry over to their student life. On the other hand being a successful athlete and being a successful student are without doubt very different domains of activity.
Many, perhaps all, Division IA institutions have set up special support structures for student-athletes to increase their chances both of academic and athletic success. Considerable attention has been paid to this. Some believe that providing such a strong support structure is a right-minded thing for a college or university to do; others argue that it is unfair to non-athletes who do not receive the same support, particularly those with similar or even greater need. This separate and enhanced support for student-athletes appears to have been a successful endeavor, at least to some degree, and may account for the generally positive responses provided by the student-athletes to many of the survey items. Table 6 provides information on student-athletes' perceptions of the support they receive at their universities.
The student-athletes were asked to evaluate the influence of a number of persons on them. College coaches' influence on their academic goals was viewed as positive by 85% with similar responses for academic advisors, both within and outside the athletics department. Favorite professors and professors in their majors were viewed as providing positive support over 90% of the time. Social and emotional support was received from immediate family (96%), teammates (80%), roommates (74%), classmates (41%), and other friends (66%).
Overall, these responses indicate a sense among the large majority of student-athletes that they receive strong support to help them succeed in college. This would suggest that the universities they represent have demonstrated concern for them as students, not just as athletes. Skeptics might claim that universities are interested in the academic performance of student-athletes only so that they remain eligible to compete. No survey questions asked student-athletes to assess this claim. Nonetheless, it would seem that the student-athletes' responses would have reflected such a negative perception in some way, including sharing this perception in the space provided for them to write in comments either to amplify responses to particular questions or to provide additional information. Although many respondents availed themselves of the opportunity to provide written comments, not one reported detecting any such exploitation or illicit motive and most comments reinforced the findings from the survey questions of strong support. There were, of course, some whose comments indicated that they feel they are receiving inadequate support or wished they were going to a different college; these were very few in number, however.
One set of questions involved treatment by professors and provided a contrary view of support.
Apparently many student-athletes believe at least some professors treat them differently--either positively or negatively--because they are student-athletes. We doubt that this is something that the universities represented in this survey--or any university--would like to hear. Maybe this dynamic has something to do with many student-athletes viewing themselves more as athletes than as students. It would be interesting to pursue this question in an attempt to determine, among other things, whether particular professorial behavior contribute to these perceptions.
Participation in Campus and Community Educational Opportunities
Athletics departments frequently set up service projects in which student-athletes participate. Probably a direct result is that student-athletes tend to participate in such activities more than students in general. Table 8 presents the questions in the survey that identified student-athletes' perceptions of these experiences.
These responses suggest that the service projects sponsored by athletics departments in which student-athletes are encouraged or required to participate are successful activities for most of these students (and, it would seem safe to predict, for those for whom the service is provided as well as good public relations for the athletics department). While student-athletes participate at a high rate in athletics-sponsored service projects, the question is often raised whether student-athletes have the time and opportunity to participate in other campus educational opportunities available to students in general. Several survey questions addressed that issue.
Thirty-six percent of the student-athletes indicate that they either currently are or have been members of campus-wide organizations. This compares to 52% of seniors who reported to the NSSE survey that they participate in co-curricular activities. Seventy percent of the respondents state that there are educational opportunities (internships, research projects, study abroad, etc.) that they cannot do because of their athletics participation. This is also frequently noted in the written comments the student-athletes provided. Two-thirds of those surveyed say that they wished they had more time to pursue educational opportunities available at their universities. Sixty percent say that there are campus events (speakers, plays, concerts, etc.) that they are interested in but are unable to attend because of the time demands of athletics.
Responses to this series of questions suggest that while student-athletes spend more time on co-curricular activities than students in general, it is primarily because athletics departments sponsor or require participation. Clearly many student-athletes view these activities as positive experiences. It also appears clear, however, that they miss out on other co-curricular activities. This is the area of college life in which there is a price to pay for being an athlete. It is evident by the responses to the above questions, as well as by the student-athlete written comments, that many student-athletes regret that they have missed out on important parts of the college experience. How they assess these trade-offs is discussed infra.
Time Demands of Being a Student-Athlete
Obviously participation in Division IA sports is very demanding of a student-athlete's time and energy. The survey included questions to determine just how great these demands are and how student-athletes perceive them. The following are among the findings from this section of the survey:
* During the season 82% spend more than 10 hours per week practicing sports.
* During the season 40% spend more than 10 hours per week playing sports.
* During the off-season 53% spend more than 10 hours per week practicing sports.
* During the off-season 21% spend more than 10 hours per week playing sports.
* Being able to spend at least 15 days at home is experienced three or more times per year by 12%, two times by 41%, once by 28% and fewer than once per year or never by 20% of the respondents.
* 87% state that they spend as much time on athletics participation as they want to spend. For those who answer "no" to this question the primary reason given is "demands of academic work" (20% state that NCAA limitations on season and practice are a factor).
One of the virtues often claimed for Division IA athletics is that student-athletes have a rich multicultural experience and that they interact with a more diverse group of students than does the general student body. Several questions were included on the survey to test that assumption. The responses included in Table 9 present a positive picture.
In comparison, in the 2005 NSSE annual report, 58% of seniors "say their institution gives very little or some emphasis on encouraging contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds"; in the 2004 NSSE annual report 52% of seniors opined that during their college years they had developed a greater "understanding of people of other racial and ethnic background."
Every college student has to make choices about how to use her or his time. All make trade-offs as there is never time to participate in all possible activities available during the college years. Some have large blocks of time devoted to work, social activities, co-curricular activities, or their academic disciplines that rule out other experiences. Certainly Division IA student-athletes have made a choice that claims much of their time and energy and requires them to sacrifice other opportunities. Several questions were asked to determine their perceptions on the tradeoffs they have made now that they are close to completing their college careers.
Of those surveyed, 102 student-athletes (11% of the total responding to the survey) state that athletics participation prevents them from majoring in what they really wanted. This cohort was asked how they feel about this. Forty-two percent of these student-athletes indicate "it was an acceptable consequence (part of the deal) of my athletics participation." Forty-five percent report "the positives of my athletics participation have more than compensated for my inability to major in what I really wanted." Less than 1% say "I wish I had not played" and 12% respond "I wish I had spent less time on my sport."
A similar response was given to the question "How do you assess the fact that your athletics participation has prevented you from taking courses in which you were interested?" Of the 417 (69%) of the respondents who say that this had happened "very often," "often," or "sometimes," half state that "it was an acceptable consequence of my athletics participation" and 44% that "the positives of participation have compensated for my inability to take the courses I really wanted."
There were 493 student-athletes (53%) who say that they do not spend as much time on all aspects of their academic work as they would like. How they feel about this reported in Table 10.
There were 422 (45%) student-athletes who say that the major reason that prevents them from spending as much time as they wanted on campus-wide organizations or in attending campus events is that they are too busy with required athletics participation. How they feel about this is reported in Table 11.
Student-athletes also were asked if athletics participation prevents them from spending time with students who were not athletes and, if so, how they assessed this. Of the 737 (84%) who say that is had so prevented them, 440 (60%) indicate "yes, but I currently have no regrets about this" while 297 (40%) indicate "yes, and I currently do have regrets about this
Student-athletes believe that their athletics participation has a negative effect on their cumulative grade point average. Sixty-five per cent state they believe that it would have been higher if they had not participated in a varsity sport, 11% that it would be lower, and the remainder believing GPA is unaffected by their participation.
Overall it seems clear that these Division IA student-athletes are satisfied with their college experiences and that they understand and accept the trade-offs they make to participate in varsity sport. They realize and regret that they have missed out on some aspects of college life but in their minds they have benefited in ways that compensate for anything that they miss. Perhaps the student-athlete who commented "You miss out on other college activities, but it equals out because you're doing something they are not doing" spoke for most student-athletes in the study.
Comparisons Between and Among Groups
Comparisons were made between and among groups in the study with the following findings.
Females vs. Males
In many instances (and every time there was a large percentage difference) male as compared to female student-athlete respondents show a greater athletics interest or influence. At the same time, female as compared to male student-athlete respondents generally show greater interest in curricular and co-curricular activities.
Athletics as motivator. The percentage of male student-athlete respondents who transfer for an athletics-related reason is larger than the percentage of female student-athlete respondents who transfer for either an athletics- or academic-related reason. A larger percentage of male as compared to female student-athlete respondents say that attending college depends on the opportunity to compete (13% difference among those who strongly agree and 19% among those who at least agree). Although a large majority of both female and male student-athlete respondents choose majors for reasons unrelated to athletics, a larger percentage of male respondents say athletics is the prime reason. The responses by gender are quite close regarding whether they would play a varsity sport even without scholarship if they could afford it. The apparent willingness of these female student-athletes to walk on differs from walk-on data generally available.
Primacy of athletics in assessments of self. Although a large percentage of both genders see themselves as athletes first, a larger percentage of male than female student athlete respondents (18%) at least somewhat agree that they identify more as athletes and that being a good student is very different from being a good athlete (5%). Finally, a higher percentage of male than female student-athlete respondents think professors both discriminate and favor them because they are athletes.
Time spent on athletics, curricular and co-curricular activities. Where female student-athletes spend discretionary time on other activities, male student-athletes concentrate more on athletics (TV, sports radio, reading about sports, talking sports, etc.). Although a large majority of both genders get home at least once each year for 15 straight days, male respondents in more than twice the percentage of female respondents do not. When the genders differ regarding curricular activity, more female than male student-athlete respondents show greater interest or participation (active class participation, doing "extras," being prepared, etc.). While 82% of female and 78% of male student-athlete respondents say that required athletics activity interferes with academic work, a much greater percentage of male than female student-athlete respondents choose to spend extra time on athletics (15%). On the flip side, a larger percentage of male than female student-athletes (72% male; 57% female) say that athletics participation adversely affects their grade point average. Female compared to male student-athlete respondents are more likely both to participate in co-curricular activities and to regret opportunities that are missed.
Both genders value the impact of athletics participation on a variety of skills (leadership, teamwork, work ethic, taking responsibility for oneself, personal and educational development, etc.). Both genders find the impact of athletics participation on their sensitivity to members of the opposite gender, and their tolerance and understanding of other races and ethnicities to be positive. A different picture emerges, one we cannot explain, when the focus is interaction with other races and ethnicities. Of the fewer than one/third who say that athletics has a negative effect on these interactions, a larger percentage of male than female student-athlete respondents (13% difference) report a negative effect.
African-Americans vs. Caucasians
A larger percentage of African-American than white student-athletes seem more likely to focus on and be influenced by athletics; they also are at the higher end of athletic talent. (5) At least some differences in responses, therefore, could be more a function of talent level than race.
Athletics as motivator. Of the 112 who transfer or choose majors for athletics reasons, a larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents do so (transfer--23% AA; 15% white; major--30% AA; 14% white). Both groups say athletics compensates, or more so, for not majoring in their first choice and they now are positive about their majors. There is a very large difference between the two groups relative to those who strongly agree they would go to college if not competing (53% AA; 81% white) or compete without aid if they could (35% AA; 57% white).
Primacy of athletics in assessment of self. A larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents strongly agree that they identify more as athletes than students (24% AA; 16% white). A much larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents believe it very likely that they will be professional or Olympic athletes (24% AA; 6% white). A larger percentage of African-American than white student-athletes strongly agree that professors discriminate against them (12% AA; 6% white).
Time spent on athletics, curricular, and co-curricular activities. About the same percentage of each group belong to campus groups, miss campus events, and say that athletics compensates, or more so, for what they miss. A larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents say they spend too much time on athletics service projects (24% AA; 17% white).
The percentage of each group who spend as much time as they want on academics is close (44% AA; 48% white). A larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents feel they miss no educational opportunities (34% AA; 28% white) and also feel they spend sufficient time on them (26% AA; 33% white want to do more). The percentage responses of both groups are virtually identical regarding satisfaction with overall education and the effort to learn in class. Both groups are at least somewhat positive about their interest in academic activities (85% AA; 85% white) and their relationship with faculty (88% AA; 90%). Regarding the activity most regretted, the largest percentage of African-American student-athletes say it is class work (38% AA; 19% white) while the largest percentage of white student-athletes say it is the full range of educational opportunities (26% AA; 30% white). There is a larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents who are on the low end of time spent at home (21% AA; 8% white do not get home once for 15 days). Although the differences between the groups generally is small, in most cases a larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents spend at least seven hours a week on athletics pastimes. An exception: a larger percentage of white than African-American student-athlete respondents practice more (out-of-season 61% AA; 83% white). The percentage of both groups is nearly identical regarding satisfaction with time spent on athletics. Of those who would have spent more time, class work is the major impediment.
A larger percentage of white than African-American student-athlete respondents say athletics has quite a bit of effect on emotional and personal development (73% AA; 86% white); there is little difference, however, when the comparison includes those who say there is some effect. There are small differences, if that, in the percentages of both groups reporting positively the effect of athletics on leadership, teamwork, studying, work ethic, taking responsibility for self and others, decision-making, and tolerance. A larger percentage of white than African-American student-athlete respondents are very positive about time management (36% AA; 50% white); a larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents are very positive about their sensitivity to the opposite gender (37% AA; 25% white. In each case there is little difference when the comparison includes those who are somewhat positive. Both groups believe athletics skills and values will help them get jobs and so too will athletics contacts.
Almost the same percentage of both groups opt for extra athletics instead of more academic work. Of those whose required athletics participation prevents more academic work, a larger percentage of white than African-American student-athlete respondents say it was an acceptable consequence, or more so (79% AA; 91% white). A larger percentage of African-American than white student-athlete respondents believe their cumulative GPA would have been higher without athletics (77% AA; 62% white). Although large majorities of both groups say they are having well-rounded educational experiences, a smaller percentage of African-American student-athletes so respond (81% AA; 93% white). Similarly, more white than African-American student-athlete respondents (62% AA; 73% white) say they achieve a good balance between athletics and everything else they could do.
More Successful vs. Less Successful Athletes
"More successful" athletes are identified as those who mark themselves as first team, recipients of full athletic scholarships their first year of school, and/or recipients of all-conference recognition. "Less successful" are all others. The data collected reveal that degree of athletic success does not seem to be an important factor in how student-athletes assess their college experience as in general, student-athletes with less success are no less positive about their college experience than those with greater success. There are a couple of exceptions to the overall similarity of responses. For example, full scholarship student-athletes tend to be less positive in their responses than those with partial or no scholarships. The most pronounced difference is on the survey item "If I could start over again, I would still attend this university" to which full scholarship recipients respond less positively than no scholarship student-athletes (43% ; 61%). This certainly suggests that some student-athletes may have made their college choice solely on the basis of the opportunity to receive athletic aid instead of what might have been a better fit for them. Student-athletes on full scholarship are considerably less likely to spend more than 30 days at home on average per year than partial or no scholarship student-athletes (34%; 59%; 51%).
Team Sports vs. Individual Sports
Although overall the responses of student-athletes in team and individual sports are similar, there are some items on which their responses are different statistically at the .01 level. (6) These include:
* Team sports student-athletes are more likely to view themselves as athletes rather than students.
* Team sports student-athletes are more likely to believe their grade point average would be higher had they not participated in athletics.
* Team sports student-athletes more frequently believe that professors discriminate against them because they are student-athletes.
* Individual sport student-athletes are more likely to spend more than 40 days per year at home during the summer.
* Individual sport student-athletes participate more frequently in campus organizations.
* Team sport student-athletes are more likely to believe that they will become a professional or Olympic athlete.
Revenue vs. Non-revenue Sports
Those who participate in football and men's and women's basketball were compared to participants in tennis, swimming and diving, and track and field. Although the differences are not great, consistently the student-athletes in the revenue sports evidence greater focus and interest in athletics and, concomitantly, less interest and focus on curricular and co-curricular activities. The exception to this is that revenue sport participants state that they would play a varsity sport without financial aid if they could afford to do so a higher percentage of the time than non-revenue participants.
International Athletes vs. U.S. Athletes
There were only 35 international student-athletes who responded to the survey so any conclusions that might be drawn about their perceptions of their college experience must be tentative ones at best. There were several questions, however, on which the responses of international and U.S. student-athletes differ at the .01 level of statistical significance. These include:
* U.S. student-athletes are more likely to identify themselves as athletes, rather than as students, than international student-athletes.
* U.S. student-athletes respond more positively to the item "if I did not need a scholarship I would still play a varsity sport at this university."
* International student-athletes are more likely to agree with the statement "somebody stops me when I try to get ahead."
* U.S. student-athletes identify "being a leader in my community" as much more important than do international student-athletes."
* U.S. student-athletes are more likely to respond that they get social and emotional support from their teammates.
* The percentage of international student-athletes who receive a full scholarship their first year at the university is more than twice that of U.S. student-athletes.
* Only 22% of U.S. student-athletes who responded to the survey participate in individual sports while 45% of the international student-athletes do.
Sub-groups Comparisons Summary
All the groups reported in Table 12 present positive pictures about their overall college experiences, including both the athletic and academic/social sides. The differences between the sub-groups listed in column one and column two are not large. Those in column two, however, consistently respond more as athletes than those in column one--e.g., they view themselves more as athletes than as students, are more likely to transfer for athletic reasons, want more time for athletics, are in college to play sports, are less interested in service project, are more satisfied with the time they have spent on their academic work, watch TV sports more, and would be less likely to attend college without athletics participation.
We are aware that there is a school of thought that views student-athletes as exploited and denied the opportunity to be "real" students. Perhaps this is how the situation looks to an outsider. It does not seem, however, to match how the surveyed student-athletes feel. Nor are the responses of the student-athletes inconsistent with the responses of student-athletes to similar questions in the 2005 NSSE annual survey the report of which includes this summary: "On balance, these results show that student-athletes, including those participating in high-profile sports, participate as often or more often than their non-athlete peers in effective educational practices." (7)
It might be argued that student-athletes should not be satisfied with the college experiences they have but that does not appear to be their view. They view the trade-offs they have had to make as acceptable, almost without question. Many do wish they had had the opportunity to participate in more campus activities and programs such as internships and study abroad. But, and this is especially revealed in their written comments, they strongly believe that they have had very valuable experiences which non-athletes have not had.
There are differences among the groups that were compared, but perhaps not to the degree anticipated. Overall female student-athletes have more positive responses than males; whether this is due to differences in their athletic experience or differences in the way the two genders perceive their world cannot be determined by this survey. Certainly as a whole the similarities in responses are stronger than the differences among groups. Interestingly athletic success did not seem to be an important factor in student-athletes' perceptions of their college experiences although that may be because any disgruntled ones may have dropped out of athletics long before earning 85 credits, the threshold for this study.
Some eminent leaders in higher education have suggested that participation in intercollegiate athletics does not benefit student-athletes. Many are concerned about whether student-athletes have much of a college experience beyond athletics. Based on the findings of this survey, however, it appears that those who believe that Division IA student-athletes are receiving an inferior overall college education experience need to re-assess their conclusions, or at least to consider how the student-athletes themselves evaluate that experience.
JOSEPHINE (Jo) R. POTUTO
Richard H. Larson Professor of Constitutional Law and
University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Faculty Athletics Representative
JAMES O' HANLON
Professor, UNL College of Education and Human Sciences
(1) This study was made possible by a grant and support from the NCAA Research Committee. The authors especially wish to thank Todd Petr and Ann Kearns of the NCAA staff for their assistance. Support from the NCAA included formatting of the survey instrument, printing and mailing of the surveys, and analysis of data. Funding was also provided for the site facilitators and statistical consultation.
(2) The surveys were sent to the universities in March. They were administered during the spring semester or quarter and, in one instance summer, 2005.
(3) The NSSE is provided by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Education. Over 1000 colleges and universities participate in this study that is in its seventh year. First-year and senior students are surveyed on various issues related to the quality of undergraduate learning.
(4) NSSE data are from a study of a wide variety of higher education institutions, not just Division IA schools.
(5) Talent indicators were playing time for student athletes in team sports (79% AA and 66% white were first team or frequent substitutes); no athletics aid in first year of enrollment (34% AA; 11% white) or year of the survey (14% AA; 21% white); and Athletics All-Conference awards (34% African American; 26% white).
(6) The chi-square test for independence was used to analyze the data for this study. The chisquare test for independence allowed the investigators to determine if there was a significant difference between the proportion of respondents for the various survey items answered. To control for the increase in the possibility of a Type I error, the alpha level for each of the chi-square tests was set at .01.
(7) "Exploring Different Dimensions of Student Engagement" 2005 Annual Survey Results, NSSE.
Table 1. Perceptions of the Overall College Experience (a) If I could start over again, I still would attend this university. Strongly agree 53.7% Agree 24.1% Somewhat agree 13.2% Somewhat disagree 4.0% Disagree 3.1% Strongly disagree 1.9% [Total agree = 91%] [Total disagree = 9.0%] How satisfied are you with your educational experiences? Completely satisfied 19.6% Satisfied 51.1% Somewhat satisfied 21.2% Neutral 4.9% Somewhat dissatisfied 2.1% Dissatisfied 1.2% Completely dissatisfied 0% [Total satisfied = 96.7% [Total dissatisfied = 3.3%] Reflecting on your college education thus far, how do you feel about the overall education you have received? Very positive 30.3% Positive 17.6% Somewhat positive 2.4% Somewhat negative 0.8% Negative 0.1% Very negative 0.9% Don't know [Total positive = 95.8%] [Total negative = 3.3%] Do you believe that you are having a well-rounded educational experience? Yes 91.7% No 8.3% My overall education has prepared me well for life after graduation. Strongly agree 49.8% Agree 31.2% Somewhat agree 14.8% Somewhat disagree 2.5% Disagree 1.2% Strongly disagree 0.5% [Total agree = 95.8%] [Total disagree = 4.2%] (a) Note: 2004 NSSE data--82% would "probably" or "definitely" attend the same school again. Table 2. Contribution of Athletics to Student Development To what extent, if any, has your athletics participation contributed to your educational and/or personal development? Very much 47.4% Quite a bit 34.8% Somewhat 12.9% Very little 2.6% Not at all 1.3% Don't know 1.0% My athletics participation has contributed to my overall university experience in preparing me for life after graduation. Strongly agree 62.6% Agree 24.9% Somewhat agree 9.3% Somewhat disagree 1.6% Disagree 1.0% Strongly Disagree 0.6% [Total agree = 96.8%] [Total disagree = 3.2%] Table 3. Outcomes from Athletics Participation Please indicate how your athletics participation has influenced: Leadership skills (a) 98% Teamwork 98% Ability to take responsibility for yourself 97% Ability to make decisions 94% Time management skills 94% Ability to take responsibility for others 92% Study Skills 79% (a) Percent reported is the total of those responding very positive, "positive," and "somewhat positive." Table 4. Development of Academic Behaviors Focusing on your college experiences, how much of the time have you: Participated actively in class? (a) 48%/85% Met with a faculty member not associated 29%/69% with athletics? Read a non-assigned book. 17%/39% Engaged in doing "extras" that showed a commitment to being a good student (e.g., spending extra time on homework)? 29%/64% Came to class without completing readings 20%/57% or assignments? Discussed ideas from your reading or classes 12%/38% with faculty members outside of class? Discussed ideas from your reading or classes with others outside of class (e.g. students, family members, co-workers)? (b) 23%/56% Discussed grades or assignments with a 31%/71% professor? (c) (a) Note: In the 2005 NSSE survey 69% of seniors responded either often or "very often" to this question. (b) Note: 63% of 2005 NSSE seniors responded either "often" or very often to a similar question. (c) Note: 59% of NSSE seniors responded either "often" or very often to a similar question. Table 5. Student-athletes Perceptions of Themselves I view myself as more of an athlete than a student. Strongly agree 17.2% Agree 20.2% Somewhat agree 24.4% Somewhat disagree 14.0% Disagree 16.4% Strongly disagree 6.8% Don't know 1.1% [Total agree = 61.8%] [Total disagree = 37.2%] I feel that what it takes to be a good athlete is very different from what it takes to be a good student. Strongly agree 14.9% Agree 18.4% Somewhat agree 16.5% Somewhat disagree 13.0% Disagree 21.2% Strongly disagree 15.2% Don't know 0.8% [Total agree = 49.8%] [Total disagree = 49.4%] Table 6. Support Received Has this university (either through general campus services or through the athletics department) provided you the academic, advising, and other non-financial assistance that you have needed to help you succeed academically? Very much 48.2% Quite a bit 34.0% Somewhat 14.7% Very little 2.1% Not at all 1.0% Note: 2005 NSSE student responses to this question are 23% "very much" and 43% "quite a bit." Table 7. Perceptions of Treatment from Professors How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? I feel that some of my professors discriminated against me because I was an athlete. Strongly agree 7.8% Agree 16.3% Somewhat agree 25.1% Somewhat disagree 13.2% Disagree 222.0% Strongly disagree 11.4% Don't know 4.1% [Total agree = 49.2%] [Total disagree = 46.8%] I feel that some of my professors favored me because I was an athlete. Strongly agree 3.2% Agree 13.5% Somewhat agree 29.2% Somewhat disagree 15.4% Disagree 22.5% Strongly disagree 12.2% Don't know 4.0% [Total agree = 45.9%] [Total disagree = 50.1%] Table 8. Participation in Service Projects As a student-athlete, you may have participated in service projects promoted by the Athletics Department (visiting schools, charitable events, fundraising, etc.) Were these activities valuable to you? (a) Yes 76.2% No 7.3% I did not participate in activities of this kind 16.5% With regard to your participation in service projects promoted by the athletics department, how do you assess the time spent on these projects? Spent more time than I had 17.7% I had sufficient time 51.5% Would have liked to have spent more time 30.8% With regard to your participation in service projects promoted by the Athletics Department, did you enjoy doing them? Yes 90.9% No 9.1% Which of the following statements best describes your participation in service projects promoted by the Athletics Department or your team? Completely voluntary 35.0% Required 19.7% Described as voluntary but I felt required to 18.7% participate Some voluntary; some required 26.6% (a) Note: 59% reported of 2005 NSSE seniors reported they had taken part in service projects, 13% that they planned to do it. Table 9. Diversity Experiences To what extent, if any, has your athletics participation contributed to your understanding of people of racial and ethnic backgrounds different from yours? Very much 33.0% Quite a bit 27.5% Somewhat 21.5% Very little 8.2% Not at all 5.0% Don't know 4.8% Generally, how do you feel about the experiences you have had with people of other racial or ethnic groups? Very good 43.8% Good 42.7% Somewhat good 9.8% Somewhat bad 1.7% Bad 0.3% Don't know or not applicable 1.5% Please indicate how your athletics participation has influenced: Your tolerance for people of other races or backgrounds Very positive 47.6% Positive 31.4% Somewhat positive 11.9% Somewhat negative 1.4% Negative 0.4% Very negative 0.3% Don't know 6.9% Your sensitivity to members of the opposite gender Very positive 26.8% Positive 29.3% Somewhat positive 18.3% Somewhat negative 5.9% Negative 2.2% Very negative 0.8% Don't know 16.7% Table 10. Trade-offs Relative to Not Enough Time for Academic Work "It was an acceptable consequence of my athletics 50.0% participation" "The positives of my athletics participation have more than compensated for my inability to spend as much time as I wanted on all aspects of my 39.0% academic work" "Looking back: I wish I had not played a varsity sport" 3.0% I wish I had spent less time on my sport" 8.0% Table 11. Trade-offs Relative to Not Enough Time for Campus Activities "It was an acceptable consequence" 55.0% "The positives compensated for my inability" 35.0% "I wish I had not played" 2.0% "I wish I had spent less time on my sport" 8.0% Table 12. Sub-group Comparisons More Academic Oriented More Athletic Oriented Females Males Caucasians African-Americans Individual sport participants Team sport participants No athletic scholarship Full athletic scholarship Occasional substitute First team Non-revenue sport participants Revenue sport participants International student-athlete U.S. student-athlete…