Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Cognitive Impacts of Intercollegiate Athletic Participation

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Cognitive Impacts of Intercollegiate Athletic Participation

Article excerpt

Some Further Evidence

There can be little doubt that intercollegiate athletics is one of the significant filters through which the public looks at American postsecondary education (e.g., Focus on American Athletics, 1995; Lapchick, 1989; Sperber, 1990; Telander, 1996; Thelin, 1994). The public's image of an institution as well as its attractiveness to prospective students are often influenced by the performance of its athletic teams (Mixon, 1995; Toma & Cross, 1996). For some time, however, there has been concern about the contribution of intercollegiate athletics to an individual's education (Ryan, 1989; Stone & Strange, 1989; Telander, 1996). There is a modest, but expanding, body of evidence on the impact of athletic participation on a range of college outcomes. Part of this evidence suggests that intercollegiate athletic participation may be negatively associated with such outcomes as involvement and satisfaction with the overall college experience, career maturity, clarity in educational and occupational plans, and principled moral judgment (Blann, 1985; Bredemeier & Shields, 1986; Kennedy & Dimick, 1987; Sowa & Gressard, 1983; Stone & Strange, 1989). Similarly, although collegiate athletic participation may enhance the social mobility of individuals from relatively low socioeconomic backgrounds (Sack & Thiel, 1979), both DuBois (1978) and Howard (1986) found little to indicate that being a college athlete is significantly associated with various objective indexes of career success (e.g., managerial effectiveness, job status). More recently Adelman (1990), analyzing the 1986 follow-up of the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972, found that varsity athletes at age 32 had a higher rate of employment and home ownership than other former college students. On the other hand, athletes were less likely to indicate that their college education was relevant to their work or that they worked with ideas and were more likely to have lower socioeconomic occupations than they planned at age 19.

One of the difficult problems inherent in research on the educational impacts of intercollegiate athletic participation is separating the effects of recruitment from those of socialization. The students who participate in intercollegiate athletics are often "recruited" from a population of secondary school students with a constellation of school experiences, aptitudes, and socioeconomic contexts that are significantly different from nonathletes (Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Pascarella & Smart, 1991). Consequently, unless one takes such background or precollege characteristics into account, it is likely that comparisons of athletes and nonathletes will be a proxy for individual differences at the time of entrance to college (i.e., recruitment effects) rather than representing the net socialization effects of athletic participation during college (Astin, 1970a, 1970b; Pascarella, 1987; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Research that attempts to control for precollege differences between athletes and nonathletes suggests a number of positive impacts of athletic participation in noncognitive areas. For example, analyzing different iterations of a national sample from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program Astin (1993), Ryan (1989), and Pascarella and Smart (1991) 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. Similarly, in a longitudinal study of 23 two- and four-year colleges from 16 different states Pascarella, Edison, Hagedorn, Nora, and Terenzini (1996) found that participation in intercollegiate athletics positively influenced gains in students' internal locus of attribution for success during the first year of college.

Somewhat surprisingly, relatively sparse attention has been paid to the impacts of intercollegiate athletic participation on the cognitive outcomes of college. …

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