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. …