Comeaux and Harrison’s (2011) conceptual model of academic success for student-athletes is based on many of the student development, student involvement, student outcomes, and student engagement theories that have been previous explored in relation to college student success while recognizing the role of athletic participation in the student-athlete experience. One of the stages of their models focuses on the importance of social integration and connections to the collegiate success of student-athletes.
Higher education researchers have long understood the importance of social connections in supporting student success. Several classic works on college student development, including Vincent Tinto’s theories on college departure, emphasize interactions with peers as an important factors related to student learning and success.
This research note explores the differences in connections between first-year student-athletes and non-student-athletes in college. The study included nearly 60,000 first-year students at 56 four-year institutions in the United States. Figure 1 of the associated research note shows the distribution of first-year students in this study based on whether or not they were student-athletes. Approximately one in ten first-year students in this study were on an institution-sponsored athletic team.
Overall, the most notable differences between athletes and non-athletes in the first year regarding connections were related to on-campus social connections, in particular peer connections, on-campus social connections, and social integration with the campus as a whole. Athletes and non-athletes responded to questions related to academic connections, roommates, and homesickness similarly.
- On average, first-year student-athletes were more likely to report strong peer connections, social integration, and on-campus social connections that non-athletes.
- Student-athletes and non-student-athletes were nearly identical regarding academic connections, homesickness, and roommate relationships.
Looking for more information on student-athletes? View our recent webinar, A Balancing Act: The Student Athlete Experience.
About the Data
The data used in this research note is from the 2016-2017 Mapworks Fall Transition Survey. The survey was jointly designed by the survey development team at Skyfactor and researchers at Ball State University. The Transition Survey measures the behaviors and expectations of students entering a college or university. Data is typically collected beginning three to four weeks into the fall term via Skyfactor’s online survey system. The data in this note is from 59,931 first-year college students from 56 four-year institutions in the United States, including 5,529 student-athletes. The note also used student profile data uploaded by participating institutions for the 2016-2017 academic year, including but not limited to term GPA, retention rates, and the item identifying students as student-athletes.