Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Millennial Student-Athletes and Career Development: Toward an Understanding of Academic, Athletic and Parental Spheres of Influence on Career Aspirations and Undergraduate Major Choices

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Millennial Student-Athletes and Career Development: Toward an Understanding of Academic, Athletic and Parental Spheres of Influence on Career Aspirations and Undergraduate Major Choices

Article excerpt

One of the inherent functions of colleges and universities is to prepare students to graduate with a degree that allows them to embark on their career journey. Bell (2009) stated that today's student-athletes, a population subset within the larger student body, have an enhanced pressure to maintain eligibility - which can often times cloud the aforementioned function of higher education. In turn, intentional career preparation may be sacrificed as student-athletes succumb to pressures from coaches and media to produce winning records and maintain eligibility (Comeaux & Harrison, 2011). Currently, a small percentage of the student affairs literature base considers the personal experiences of college student-athletes and the subsequent spheres of influence that support these college students as they prepare for career fields - as compared to other topics such as identity development or transition issues. Further exploration which considers the student-athlete perspective is warranted to understand how student affairs professionals can best prepare millennial student-athletes for life after college in career fields via meaningful undergraduate preparation (Kidwell, 2005).

Millennial Student-Athletes and Career Preparation

According to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA)'s most recent study: on average, less than three percent of student-athletes competing at the intercollegiate level will pursue a professional career in their sport (NCAA, 2011). In turn, student affairs professionals are charged to prepare the overwhelming majority of student-athletes for career fields external to professional sport outlets. This can be quite a difficult task given the enhanced pressure student-athletes experience from multiple spheres of influence (i.e., parents, coaches, and academics; Gaston-Gayles & Hu, 2009). Over the past 20 years, the highly commercialized world of intercollegiate athletics has influenced the way in which millennial student-athletes navigate the college experience and prepare for life after sport (Adler & Adler, 1987, Broughton & Neyer, 2003; Harrison & Lawrence, 2003; Sharp & Sheilley, 2008). External influences such as multimillion-dollar television contracts have heightened the commercialization of college sport, resulting in enhanced pressure for coaches and athletics administrators to produce winning teams (Croissant, 2001). In turn, media forums continue to depict large Division I athletic departments as systems which exploit student-athletes for their athletic prowess, but place little emphasis on meaningful career development during the higher education experience (Fountain & Finley, 2011; Renick, 1974; Suggs, 2003; Thelin, 1994). These researchers suggest the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics has led to the perception that an undergraduate degree is merely a commodity to maintain eligibility, rather than a vehicle to prepare student-athletes for meaningful careers in life after sport. While these issues are most pronounced for millennial student-athletes who participate in mainstream sports at the Division I level, similar issues exist across Divisions.

While literature supports that the student-athlete experience is unique (Bell, 2009), there is scant research that considers the millennial student-athlete voice with respect to how these individuals develop career aspirations and select undergraduate majors. To address this gap in the current student development literature, this article draws on the interviews of 29 student-athletes at a large, highly selective Division 1/ Research I institution. The purpose of this article is twofold: (a) to understand what life experiences influence millennial student-athletes' undergraduate major choices; and (b) to further explore how these undergraduate major choices align with individual career aspirations in life after sport.

Literature Review

Higher education scholars (i.e., Baldwin & Blackburn, 1981; Blann, 1985; Keup, 2007; Kidwell, 2005; Reason, Domingo, & Terenzini, 2006) posited that processes of identity development intensify for undergraduate students as they explore undergraduate majors, adjust to the demands of college life, and develop an enhanced understanding of their own personal strengths and passions. …

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