The Influence of Student Engagment and Sport Participation on College Outcomes among Division I Student Athletes

By Gayles, Joy Gaston; Hu, Shouping | Journal of Higher Education, May-June 2009 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Student Engagment and Sport Participation on College Outcomes among Division I Student Athletes


Gayles, Joy Gaston, Hu, Shouping, Journal of Higher Education


Over the past decade, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has become increasingly concerned about the educational experience of student athletes, beyond the mere enforcement of eligibility rules and regulations. Perhaps this growing interest is in response to public criticism of the intercollegiate athletic enterprise, commonly known as "American higher education's 'peculiar institution'" (Thelin, 1994, p. 1). Recent and past incidences of low graduation rates, particularly for football and men's basketball, gross misconduct, academic scandals, and student athletes leaving higher education institutions in poor academic standing have eroded the public's confidence concerning the educational benefits of participation in sports at the college level. Thus, finding the proper balance between intercollegiate athletics and the goals of higher education so that student athletes experience positive gains in student learning and personal development has been an enigma unsolved by institutions of higher education.

The NCAA has responded to public criticism by limiting the number of hours student athletes spend on athletic activities (e.g., competition, practice, conditioning, etc.), restricting the number of student athletes who live together on campus, and requiring academic support services for student athletes at Division I institutions. Despite the limits enforced by the NCAA, a recent survey on student athletes' experiences on college campuses reported that football players at Division I institutions spend well over 40 hours per week on athletic related activities (Wolver-ton, 2008). That much time spent on athletics is alarming because it leaves very little time during the week to devote to other activities, such as academics and other educationally purposeful activities. Moreover, student athletes could potentially miss out on the learning that takes place from interacting with peers and engaging in other educational activities outside of the classroom and off the field.

More recently, the NCAA implemented the academic progress rate (APR) rule to encourage institutions and athletic programs to retain its student athletes in good academic standing. However, more information is needed concerning the overall experience of student athletes and the kinds of activities that foster learning and personal development for this population. Given the high profile status of sports such as football and men's basketball at Division I institutions, it would be instructive to examine whether participation in educationally purposeful activities varies by profile level of sport participation. Further, an examination of how such activities are related to cognitive and affective outcomes for student athletes in high profile versus low profile sports is warranted.

Research on Student Engagement and Undergraduate Outcomes

Student Engagement

One of the most important factors in student learning and personal development is student engagement in educationally purposeful activities that contribute directly to desired outcomes (Astin, 1993b; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005). This concept is reflected in Astin's theory of involvement, which essentially suggests that "students learn by becoming involved" (1985, p. 133). Chickering and Gamson's (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education continues this line of reasoning by defining the kinds of educationally purposeful activities that lead to learning and personal development. These principles encourage: (a) student-faculty contact; (b) cooperation among students; (c) active learning; (d) prompt feedback; (e) time on task; (f) communication of high expectations; and (g) respect of diverse talents and ways of learning (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and other related initiatives have brought "student engagement" to the forefront of higher education reform. In particular, this study examines what contributes to the student athletes' experiences in relation to student-faculty interaction, peer interaction, participation in student groups, and participation in academic related activities, and the impact of such experiences on a set of college outcomes. …

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