Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Intercollegiate Athletic Participation and Freshman-Year Cognitive Outcomes

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Intercollegiate Athletic Participation and Freshman-Year Cognitive Outcomes

Article excerpt

The role of intercollegiate athletics in college has recently become the focus of considerable discussion and debate, As suggested by Ryan [30], the contribution of intercollegiate athletic participation to an individual's education is being questioned, not only by faculty and administrators, but also by the public news media. There is a small but growing body of evidence on the impact of athletic participation on various educational outcomes. A substantial segment of this evidence suggests that athletic participation may be negatively linked with such outcomes as involvement and satisfaction with the overall college experience, career maturity, and clarity in educational and occupational plans [11, 18, 33, 34]. Similarly, although athletic participation in college may often function to facilitate the social mobility of individuals from relatively low socioeconomic backgrounds [31], both DuBois [13] and Howard [17] found little to indicate that various objective indexes of career success (for example, job status, managerial effectiveness) are significantly correlated with collegiate athletic participation.

A nontrivial problem confronting researchers attempting to estimate the educational impacts actually attributable to athletic participation and not to other aspects of the college experience (that is, athletics'"net effect") is that intercollegiate athletes often enter college with a constellation of secondary school experiences, aptitudes, and socioeconomic perspectives that are significantly different from those of nonathletes [16, 27]. This means that, unless one takes such background or precollege characteristics into account, it is likely that comparisons of athletes and nonathletes will simply reflect individual differences at the time of entrance to college rather than the net effects of athletic participation during college [4, 5, 25, 28]. The research that attempts to control for precollege differences between athletes and their nonathlete counter-parts reports positive net impacts for athletic participation in several areas. For example, analyzing different iterations of a national data base from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, Astin [7], Ryan [30], and Pascarella and Smart [27] report evidence indicating that athletic participation is linked with satisfaction with the overall college experience and may also increase motivation to complete one's degree, persistence in college, and actual bachelor's degree completion.

Interestingly, relatively little attention has been paid to the impacts of athletic participation on the various cognitive outcomes of college. The evidence that does exist focuses largely on the impact of being an athlete on academic achievement, operationally defined as cumulative grade point average. The basic generalization that can be made from this small body of research is that, when controls are made for differences in academic aptitude, secondary school achievement, and other salient characteristics, the academic achievement of Intercollegiate athletes is approximately the same as that of their nonathletic counterparts [2, 16, 27, 32, 35]. Moreover, this parity appears to hold even when the comparison groups are nonathletes and athletes in revenue-producing sports such as football and basketball [16, 32, 35].

Clearly, some substantial problems exist in using college grades as an indication of learning and cognitive development during college. As suggested in a review of the literature by Pascarella. and Terenzini [28], the reliability and validity of grades are threatened by a large number of potentially confounding influences. These include the academic selectivity of the institution attended, the student's major field of study, individual course-grading patterns, and even professorial style and personality. Because of these potential confounding influences it is extremely hazardous to make comparisons of student learning or cognitive growth based on college grades, either within or between institutions. …

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