Group of colleges and universities participates in study of athletics and academics

December 4, 2007

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? The College Sports Project (CSP) has released reports to 71 presidents of Division III colleges and universities that compare academic performance between athletes and non-athletes at the end of their first year at the institution. The reports are the first in a series of annual analyses titled "Representativeness of College Athletes," to be conducted as part of a 5-year longitudinal study of students at participating NCAA Division III institutions, and funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Individual results by institution will remain anonymous throughout the study.

The findings, based on analyses of nearly 40,000 students, showed relatively modest differences in class rank by the spring of 2006 for female athletes and non-athletes. However, male athletes had class ranks 8 percentile points lower at the end of their first year at the institution when compared with their non-athlete counterparts.  In addition, recruited male athletes had class ranks 7 percentile points lower than non-recruited male athletes. 

The analysis also examined academic outcomes by individual sports. Students on teams in some sports had higher class ranks than the averages for their counterparts not competing on teams. For example, both men's and women's cross country yielded higher average percentile class ranks than did their classmates who are not on intercollegiate teams. Men's squash and women's sailing also ranked relatively high on their academic outcomes.

 "The data reviewed this fall reveal both successes and challenges for many of the nation's colleges and universities," said John Emerson, Middlebury College Dean of Planning and Dana Professor of Mathematics, and the study's principal investigator. "By focusing on the successes and asking what we can learn from them and how we can extend them to other groups or teams, I believe college presidents can ensure that their intercollegiate programs will be compatible with the excellent academics at Division III colleges."

The research team believes information provided to college presidents may be useful to participating colleges as they seek to strengthen outcomes for teams at their own institutions that did not fare as well. "At a time when the national higher education agenda is emphasizing the need for more cross-institutional measurement of collegiate outcomes, the College Sports Project provides such data to college presidents - the people who are best able to put them to use for the improvement of the educational experiences of both athletes and non-athletes on their campuses," says Rachelle L. Brooks, who directs CSP's Center for Data Collection and Analysis at Northwestern University.

The study is primarily interested in the extent to which student athletes are representative of the student body with regard to their collegiate outcomes, including retention, graduation rates, time-to-degree, college grade point average (GPA) and major. The data were collected on students first enrolled at the institution in the 2005-2006 academic year, and include information about their demographics, athletic participation, academic standing at the end of their first year, standardized test scores, and high school class rank. Each year throughout the study participating institutions will update data about the 2005-2006 cohort and will add new information about an additional cohort.

Researchers note that some of the project's questions cannot be answered until data have been collected over several years. For example, can differences in college GPA between athletes and non-athletes be explained by differences in their incoming educational characteristics or by factors they experience while enrolled in college? Similarly, will college athletes become more or less like their peers who are non-athletes with the passage of their years at college?

The College Sports Project (www.collegesportsproject.org) is an initiative of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. CSP represents colleges and universities in the NCAA's Division III who are committed to strengthening the bonds between intercollegiate athletics and educational values. In addition to the data collection, the College Sports Project also sponsors workshops for athletic directors, faculty, coaches and campus officials to work together toward better integration of the academic, athletic, and student life dimensions of colleges and universities in their efforts to align athletic programs with educational missions.

For more information, contact John Emerson at jemerson@middlebury.edu or Rachelle Brooks at rlbrooks@northwestern.edu.  Media contact at Northwestern University is Alan Cubbage, Vice President for University Relations, 847-491-4886.