WRITERS: SCOTT HAUSER & MELVIN O. SHAW
CONTACT: MELVIN O. SHAW
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Iowa City IA 52242
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'Revenue' athletes in U.S. colleges do less well cognitively than
peers, according to UI study
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- College football and basketball players are being
penalized cognitively compared to their non-athlete peers when it comes
to getting the most out of college, according to a new study led by a noted
University of Iowa educational researcher.
The study, conducted by Ernest T. Pascarella of the UI College of Education
and colleagues at several institutions, indicates that male athletes in
football and basketball programs, commonly called the "revenue sports,"
progress less well during their second and third years of college on standardized
measures of writing skills, reading comprehension and critical thinking
than do non-athletes or student-athletes in other sports.
Among women college students, athletes did slightly less well in reading
comprehension in their third year of college compared to non-athletes,
but the gap was less pronounced than for men.
The study, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of "Journal
of Higher Education," tracked 3,331 students at 18 four-year colleges
in 16 states beginning in the fall of 1992. Students in the study agreed
to take a standardized test to follow their cognitive development in their
second and third years of college.
Researchers analyzed a series of variables to control for differences
among the students, including precollege academic and cognitive ability,
academic motivation, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, the academic ability
of the student body at the students' institutions, on- or off-campus living,
hours of study per week and others.
Pascarella, the Mary Louise Petersen Professor of Higher Education at
the UI, says researchers have known for a long time that participating
in revenue sports has an influence on how students do in college. The study
is the second in a series of studies conducted by this group of researchers
that try to estimate the cognitive effects of intercollegiate athletic
participation using standardized tests.
"Our conclusion is that male college students who participate in
the revenue sports of basketball and football aren't getting as much out
of school cognitively as their counterparts who are participating in other
sports or who are not participating in any organized sports," Pascarella
says. "By that I mean, they progressed less well in the three areas
of cognitive development we looked at over two and three years than did
"For women, the difference is much less pronounced, almost insignificant,
except for the one area of reading comprehension," Pascarella says.
The study didn't examine the causes of the different scores between
different groups of students, but the authors speculate that basketball
and football at the collegiate level require a lot of time and psychological
energy that may otherwise be spent on class work, or that revenue sport
athletes become drawn into a subculture that places less emphasis on academics.
In the study, Pascarella and colleagues selected 18 four-year colleges
and universities in 16 states based on data supplied by the National Center
on Educational Statistics.
The initial sample included 562 second-year men and 1,056 second-year
women and 390 third-year men and 747 third-year women who participated
in the National Study of Student Learning (NSSL), a large longitudinal
investigation of factors that influence learning and cognitive development
In the fall of 1992, students were given four parts of the Collegiate
Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP), a multiple-choice test of reading
comprehension, mathematics, critical thinking, writing skills and science
reasoning. The test was developed by the American College Testing Program
to assess selected general skills typically acquired by students during
the first two years of college.
Of the original sample of 3,331 students, 867 men and 1,549 women were
tested again in the spring of 1993; in spring 1994, 562 men and 1,056 women
participated; in spring 1995, 390 men and 747 women were tested.
The collected scores on the CAAP test and the responses from the NSSL
survey were compared and analyzed.
Overall, the deficit for male athletes in revenue producing sports compared
athletes in other sports and non-athletes range from 10.5 percentage points
to 13.5 percentage points based on a 100 percent scale.
Among the findings:
-- At the end of the second year (1994), male athletes in non-revenue
producing sports showed no significant difference in science reasoning
and writing skills compared to non-athletes;
-- At the end of the second year (1994), male basketball players and football
players showed no significant difference in science reasoning compared
-- At the end of the second year (1994), female athletes and non-athletes
showed no statistical difference in their cognitive development.
-- At the end of the third year (1995), male athletes in non-revenue producing
sports continued to show no significant difference in reading comprehension
and critical thinking skills compared to non-athletes;
-- At the end of the third year (1995), male basketball players and football
players scored from 10.5 percent to 13.5 percent less well than non-athletes
in reading comprehension and in critical thinking.
-- At the end of the third year (1995), female athletes and non-athletes
showed no statistical difference in their cognitive development, except
in the area of reading comprehension, where athletes scored about 7 percent
less well than non-athletes.
Pascarella is the co-author of the landmark study, "How College
Affects Students," as well as numerous studies on student development
in postsecondary institutions.
Co-authors for the study were Rachel Truckenmiller, a doctoral student
at the UI College of Education; Amaury Nora, professor of higher education
at the University of Houston; Patrick Terenzini, professor of higher education
at the Pennsylvania State University and co-author of "How College
Affects Students"; Marcia Edison, postdoctoral research fellow at
the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Linda Serra Hagedorn, assistant
professor of higher education at the University of Southern California.
The study was conducted as part of the national Study of Student Learning,
supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the National
Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessments.